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The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics

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Éva Forgács

Chapter 15. Parallel Fates? Weimar, Dessau and Moscow

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1WHEN in the autumn of 1930 Meyer took the train to Moscow, he as it were with his own body, drew a line connecting Bauhaus utopias and views of art to the parallel Soviet Russian theories. The wider historical and intellectual environment of the Bauhaus included not only those currents of international Constructivism that played a significant role in Germany, but also the source, the Soviet Russian avant-garde, with all of its ecstatic enthusiasm, sober pragmatism and analytic methods, futuristic visions and ongoing euphoria. Like the Bauhaus, VKhUTEMAS (Higher Artistic-Technical Studios) was a kind of concentrate of the times: it embodied all issues that stirred art and society, and considered its task to be searching, through art, for answers and solutions to present and future problems.

  • 1 The article published in Khudozhestvennaya zhizn. 4/5,1920, pp. 23-4 is referred to In Christina L (...)

2During the Bauhaus's early surge of momentum Gropius expressly sought contacts, if not directly with VKhUTEMAS, then with the artists of the recently founded Soviet state. As early as 1920 he sent one of his writings to Moscow, in which, hoping for collaboration, he drew attention to the fact that the Bauhaus, just like the new Soviet artists, was exploring a synthesis of the arts.1 In a German intellectual environment saturated by revolutionary and mystical expectations Gropius, who was attacked for being too far to the left, thought it natural to turn towards the Russians, who already possessed revolutionary experience. The sense and compelling logic of parallel fates was stronger than the political risk of the gesture.

  • 2 H. and L. Scheper. 'Open Letter to VKhUTEIN Students, 1930'; in Hubertus Gassner and Eckhart Gilte (...)
  • 3 INKhUK (Institut Khudozhestvennoy Kultury) functioned from May 1920 to 1 January 1922 in Moscow, w (...)
  • 4 Cf. chapter 8. quotes belonging to notes 10 and 11.
  • 5 Troels Anderson, Malevich. catalogue to his exhibition. Stockholm, 1970, p. 13.

3Subsequent personal contacts, made mostly by Russian artists travelling in Germany (before 1930, when Hannes Meyer and his students travelled to Moscow, there are documents only for Hinnerk and Lou Scheper's 1929-31 stay in Moscow),2 were perhaps not quite as significant as some of the literature would suggest. It Is true that Kandinsky had taught at iNKhUK (Institute of Artistic Culture),3 and for a brief period in SVOMAS (State Free Art Studios) and in VKhUTEMAS as well, before accepting Gropius's invitation to the Bauhaus. However, as we have seen, his experiences of collectivization and ideology verging on dogmatism were so negative that he did not wish to see them repeated at the Bauhaus.4 Malevich happened to visit the Bauhaus during the Easter vacation of 1927, at a time when hardly anyone was at the school.5 (The appearance of his World without Objects in the Bauhaus Books series was not brought about by personal contact but was a tribute to the importance of Malevich's art and his theories.) As for Lissitzky, who after his return to the Soviet Union in 1926 became the foreign emissary of VKhUTEMAS, he, as already noted, was pointedly refused an invitation by Gropius to teach at the Bauhaus.

  • 6 See chapter 7, note 47.

4The relationship, therefore, between the two movements was historical, rather than personal. It was defined accurately by Lissitzky and Ehrenburg in 1922 when, at the already mentioned Düsseldorf conference, they stated that in Russia, during the seven yecrs of total isolation, the same problems cropped up that were on the agenda for their friends in the West, without their mutual awareness of this.6 This recognition proved to be the cornerstone of international Constructivism, its perspectives provided by this potential and proven store of shared ideas.

  • 7 Ibid.

5But Lissitzky's next statement accurately points out the differences between the respective situations and possibilities of artists in the Soviet Union and in Germany. When he went on to say that 'in Russia, after a hard-fought but victorious struggle, we have conducted the first experiment in realizing the new art on the greater scale of society and the state',7 he was referring to an experience that the Bauhaus, especially in 1922, could not yet claim for itself. Not even in its own immediate environment, much less 'on the greater scale of society and the state', could its experiment be considered a 'hard-fought but victorious struggle'.

6The position and significance of the Bauhaus in the international environment will emerge more clearly if we consider, at least in their main outlines, precisely these similarities and differences between the two movements.

7Apart from the Bauhaus, the Moscow VKhUTEMAS was the only innovative institution of higher-level art education at the time. There are such striking parallels between the programmes and histories of these two institutions that it would be a mistake to avoid a comparison of their goals, strategies and achievements. All the more so since the close similarities, the often identical language, could tempt one to the superficial conclusion that the two schools were separated merely by geography, and in all other respects were replicas of each other.

8Precisely because during their existence there was so little actual concrete contact between the Bauhaus and VKhUTEMAS, they furnish an especially tangible example of the extent to which the spirit of the age acts as an imperative in certain concrete human endeavours. In their overall outlines, the fates of both institutions seemed to follow the same script.

  • 8 Quoted by German Karginov in Rodchenko, Corvina, Budapest, 1975, p. 123.
  • 9 Nikolai Punin, 'Khram ili zavod?' (Cathedral or Factory?); in Isskustvo kommuny [Art of the Collec (...)

9VKhUTEMAS, like the Bauhaus, was established via the amalgamation of an academy of fine arts and a school of applied arts, at a time when the segregation of the various areas of art was no longer deemed intellectually or practically desirable. Its predecessors were SVOMAS I, successor of the former Moscow Stroganov School of Applied Arts, and SVOMAS II, created from the former Moscow Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. The amalgamation itself, and especially the adjective 'Free' inserted before the designation 'Art Studios', reflected the demands made at the April 1918 Petersburg conference of art school students: 'In our century, the century of great transformations and human liberation, every creative manifestation of artists and the arts must be absolutely free … The freedom of art is the most important prerequisite of great art. Therefore any centralization, any autocratic attempt to dictate intellectual life, is our enemy and is unacceptable ... The petty egotism of the past, an education that nurtured personal vanities, must be mercilessly expelled from our schools. Down with all diplomas, ranks, awards and privileges that disgrace Art!'8 The passionate debates over the vocation and social function of the artist recall those raging at the Deutsche Werkbund in 1914. As opposed to the students demanding absolute freedom, there was another viewpoint, expressed in 1918 by the art historian Nikolai Punin, one of the ideological proponents of Productivism: 'We need plain, artistically executed utilitarian objects of high qualify. Those who want and are able to work in the new state should visit the furniture, textile and porcelain factories, timber-processing plants, etc., and contemplate the needs and tastes of the proletariat, then strive to satisfy these needs and tastes, for this is the only thing needed at this time.'9

  • 10 Gropius in Ja) Stimmen des Arbeitsrats für Kunst, Berlin, 1919; quoted by Hüter, op. cit., p. 207.

10The aim of the Petersburg students' demands for total autonomy was, again, the desire to shape history, the creation of the prerequisites for great art - the anticipation of an art whose timeliness would be expressed, among others, by the essential feature that it would no longer profess the Individuum, 'the petty egotism of the past'. Rather, it would be an art for the present, and for the coming new age that would surpass it in all respects: a future world based on collective humanity. As Walter Gropius, looking past the petty sphere of practical considerations, formulated it in 1919: 'It is not art that Is of paramount importance, and not even the work of art, but the human being . . . Our task cannot be anything other than preparing the unity of a coming, harmonious age.'10

  • 11 Short for zaumenny ('beyond meaning'). Tatlin designed the sets for Khlebnikov's play Zangezi.

11These parallels are more than alluring. Between 1918 and 1922, In Moscow as in Weimar or, for that matter, in Amsterdam, the stakes were not merely the creation of a new style. A geometric formal language of constructivism, then of functionalism, became the illustrated holy scripture of a new religion. The new world of collectivism, transcending all worldly conflicts, was projected in these crystalline systems of pure colours and intersecting straight lines. Everywhere it proclaimed a totally fresh start: both In the East and in the West visual thinking meant predominantly basic forms and primary colours. The willingness to question and dismantle the basic tenets of civilization verged on anarchy: Lothar Schreyer banned words from the stage, replacing them with elemental sounds, while Khlebnikov substituted for words so-called zaum,'11 sounds beyond meaning. The ballast of old-fashioned culture, which extremists took to include all art forms and even words themselves, was not going to be admitted into the new world. Everything had to begin all over again: at the Weimar Bauhaus as well as at the Moscow VKhUTEMAS the students -and, for that matter, the teachers too - had to relearn the processes of seeing and touching, and the classrooms featured nothing but analysis and basic operations.

  • 12 In connection with VKhUTEMAS I chiefly relied on the following historical and source works: Lodder (...)
  • 13 Lodder. op. cit., p. 123.

12The question is whether the Bauhaus made the same journey as VKhUTEMAS on the road from the initial, thorough investigation of the inner components of art, detailed formal analysis and social rebellion, all the way to integration with society and design production. Was the path traversed from the Arbeitsrat, the Novembergruppe and the First Manifesto all the way to the Bauhaus wallpaper the same as the path that led from the demands of the Petersburg students and the establishment of Free Art Studios, to a production-oriented institution whose intellectual programme had been whittled away? At the outset, it was a basic priority of VKhUTEMAS, founded in 1920 by a State Decree signed by Lenin, to offer, in the spirit of freedom, an extraordinarily flexible, open and experimental course of studies.12 In its first stage, between 1920 and 1923, under Efim V. Ravdel as rector, problems of expression and composition constituted the core of the first-year Preliminary Course. The curriculum also included the following compulsory subjects: chemistry, physics, mathematics, geometry, theory of tones, military instruction, colour theory, a foreign language and art history.13 In 1920 students in the Preliminary Course took, in sequence, the following five subjects: (1) 'Maximal Colouristic Expression' (taught by Lyubov Popova); (2) 'Discovering Form through Colour' (instructors: Aleksandr Osmerkin and German Fedorov); (3) 'Simultaneity of Form and Colour in the Plane' (instructor: Aleksandr Drevin); (4) 'Two-dimensional Colour/Suprematism' (instructor: Ivan Kliun); and (5) 'Construction' (taught by Alexander Rodchenko).

  • 14 Ibid., pp. 124-5.

13This curriculum reveals the same degree of concentration on painting as the Preliminary Course at the early Bauhaus, taught by Itten, and the analytic approach, investigating and dissecting the anatomy of colours and forms, their basic components and the mechanism of their effects, is again reminiscent of the early Bauhaus. For example, Rodchenko began his course with an introduction to materials - wood, aluminium, paper, glass - then, after considering colour and form, progressed to texture: the students polished, washed, abraded and scraped various materials in order to achieve diverse surface effects. In addition Rodchenko, who was never a student of Adolf Hölzel's, had recourse to that most obvious method of analysis, the study of contrasts.14 During the 1921-2 academic year the spirit of instruction became more directed, in line with the aims of Constructivism. There were four new courses: 'Colour Construction', 'Spatial Construction', 'Graphic Construction' and 'Mass Construction', indicating the more focused nature of the new interests and sensibilities. By 1923 this process intensified, becoming even more concentrated and simplified; now the topics studied were subsumed under three headings: 'Plane and Colour', 'Mass and Space', 'Space and Mass'. Each of these constituted a so-called kontsentr, or area of concentration.

  • 15 Ibid., pp. 113 and 124.

14The second phase of VKhUTEMAS, just like that of the Bauhaus, lasted from 1923 to 1926, during which time Vladimir A. Favorsky held the post of rector. In conformance with the government's 1923 Educational Reform, the emphasis was placed on collaboration with industrial production. Contact was established with outside manufacturers: production studios and workshops assumed an increased importance at the expense of purely artistic creation. The kontsentrs of the Preliminary Course were reduced to three: 'Colour and Plane', 'Graphics', 'Mass and Space'.15

  • 16 Ibid., p. 114.

15After the Academic Conference of 1926 - when it was decided that 'the level of the productive professions had to be raised'16 (creative artistic work of a non-productive nature was not even mentioned) - Pavel Novltsky was appointed as the new rector. The wood and metal workshops were amalgamated, thus giving rise to Dermetfak (Department of Wood/Metal), and the school's offerings were narrowed down to an even stricter orientation towards production. This was also expressed by the gesture of a name change in 1928 to VKhUTEIN - Higher Artistic-Technical Institute. This change corresponds to the Bauhaus accepting the designation of Design Institute in 1926, and the title of Professor for its faculty members, in symbolic acknowledgment, as it were, of the fact that integration with the rest of society, by now programmatic at both schools, went hand In hand with a rightful claim to consolidation as institutions of higher education in the arts.

  • 17 L. Leizerov. 'Evaluation of the VKhUTEMAS Painting Faculty's 1927 Conference'; in Gassner and Gilt (...)
  • 18 Ibid.

16At the conferences held In 1926 each department reiterated the complete renunciation of artistic subjectivity, along with the Interpretation of painting as an applied, decorative art.17 The words of Rector Novitsky could have been uttered by Hannes Meyer: 'The faculty of painting is not training so-called artists, but experts in definite areas: painter-pedagogues, creators of monumental genres, decorators, club-instructors and restorers. The faculty of painting does not speculate In genius. Its chief aim is to train useful, ordinary artists who will take an active role in the work of construction.'18

17Another common feature in the fate of both the Bauhaus and VKhUTEMAS was that no matter how readily they integrated themselves Into society, the power of the totalitarian state Intervened to put them out of business.

18However, these correspondences cannot prevent us from concluding that the nearly identical formulas evolved in both East and West during the 1920s did not in fact document actual similarities or parallels, but were only after-images of a single, brief, euphoric interlude, artifacts left behind by a longing both in the East and in the West for a world community and universal redemption.

19Ever since art-historical research has uncovered most of the historical circumstances of the Soviet Russian avant-garde, and thus prompted Soviet bureaucrats to unearth art objects sequestered in museum storage vaults - while private collectors also made more and more art works available for the public - we have been able to discern the outlines of significant differences that cannot be disguised by the deceptively similar wording of manifestos. What is more, we have come to realize that often the same words carry distinctly different meanings in East and West.

20The Bauhaus and VKhUTEMAS, in the course of their apparently parallel histories, in fact took diametrically opposed paths.

21Starting from its marginal avant-garde position, the Bauhaus became a fashionable design and architectural school with successful products by the end of the 1920s, whereas VKhUTEMAS started out as an institution of central importance - only to have its artists, activities and products relegated to the margins by the end of the decade.

22This was primarily caused by the fact that the respective situations of these two schools differed on every possible count.

23The Bauhaus came into existence in a defeated country, expecting a revolution, whose hopes were not yet quite dashed. The school faced violent antipathy and resistance in its immediate environment, forcing it to be on the defensive during its entire history. As opposed to this, VKhUTEMAS was the brainchild of a victorious revolution, it was the avant-garde elevated to the status of official art, consecrated by the signatures of Lenin and Lunacharsky.

24The Bauhaus was organized in a country where, in spite of the change in the form of government, it could still rely on the existing, historically evolved forms of judicial and economic infrastructure. VKhUTEMAS, on the other hand, functioned in a country with a paternalistic tradition, where the tsarist administration (perpetuated by the revolutionary bureaucracy) had not quite institutionalized judicial and economic processes. The Bauhaus, before it ran into actual political obstacles, found a wide sphere of activity within the familiar, established realm of regulations and common law. In contradistinction, every movement made by VKhUTEMAS always had to rely on the increasingly inscrutable and unpredictable personal goodwill of the political leadership.

25The Bauhaus stood outside of society, but was forced into transactions with it, in order to survive. It had to purchase its independence from day to day by making concessions of one kind or another (gestures directed at the Weimar craft guilds, some of the parliamentary parties, and the local populace); it yielded bits and pieces of its independence that were deemed dispensable or renewable, in the hope of retaining the greater part of the same. In contrast, VKhUTEMAS was basically - if not in every detail - identified with the new, revolutionary state: it was directed by artists who were themselves the developers and directors of the state's art policies. While freeing themselves from the earlier cultural apparatus, they now instituted a new art officialdom, and gained power on their own behalf. VKhUTEMAS was the state's own art school, where It intended to train its own rising generation of artists, in the spirit of its own ideology. At the outset there was hardly any distance, much less opposition, between the state and the school.

  • 19 Walter Gropius's letter to Adolf Behne, 16 September 1919; in Hüter, op. cit., p. 213.
  • 20 Cf. Ilya Ehrenburg, Emberek, évek, életem (autobiography), Gondolat, Budapest, 1963; Part Two, esp (...)

26The Bauhaus remained in the perennial position of art as opposition/resistance. Gropius had even defined this: 'The most important thing is always to remain In the opposition. This way one stays fresh.'19 From this quarter it tried to make the conservative majority accept its ideals and objectives by attempting to convince society of the superior quality of its offerings. In total contrast to this, VKhUTEMAS was in a position of power, while the large majority that did not understand or did not favour this new formal language, and considered the new works anarchic and impenetrable, was temporarily muzzled.20

  • 21 Gropius, 'Stellungnahme des Bauhauses zu einer Eingabe des "Künstlerbundes Ostthüringen", die Bezi (...)

27Gropius had faith In the persuasive power of culture and art, and endeavoured to stay away from any type of political power-play. Taking a stance on the relation of art and the state, he wrote in 1919: 'There is no need for artists' councils and interest groups. Art is not organizable.'21 In Russia, on the contrary, art was found to be most organizable, and in this respect the position of the artist was not even a subject for discussion. During the first years after the revolution, it was Impossible to separate serving the revolutionary cause from serving that of the state or art; not even the anarchists, or that perennial rebel, Mayakovsky, considered themselves to be opposition.

28In Germany during the mid-1920s the economic consolidation, accompanied by a temporary political respite, also dulled the edge of the opposition, transferring resistance more and more from the field of politics to the professional issues of art. In 1923-4 there was a glimmer of hope that the Bauhaus might achieve both intellectual and practical - that Is, financial - autonomy, in the role of an educational institution capable of taking the initiative towards a society with which It could reach a rational compact by serving its needs.

29The situation of Soviet artists and of VKhUTEMAS was radically different, since, as soldiers of the revolution, they all relied on state support. This support was based on political trustworthiness, and, as history amply demonstrates, ceased with that trust. Until the end of the 1920s, as long as Lunacharsky continued as Commissar for Culture and Education, most of the artists toeing the revolutionary line enjoyed faculty or administrative appointments at institutions of higher education, or occupied some other key cultural position. Only after Lenin's death did the separate contours of state power and the artistic sphere become perceptibly distinct. For a while, the state included modern art in its programmatic preservation of the achievements of the revolution. But it soon became obvious that art was not very amenable for consolidation, and therefore the state, in the course of its centralization and consolidation, expelled the artists who still considered themselves to be revolutionaries, thereby radically altering the relation of the state and the arts. By the end of the decade a corps of bureaucrats had come to control art schools, creative studios and associations, and they issued not suggestions but orders. The tragic oversight of the revolutionary artists was that they did not notice - perhaps there was no way they could - the direction in which the process that they themelves had initiated was heading. By the time they did see the light, it was time to be silenced. The bureaucrats of the Soviet state, like so many ants angered by their tiresome toils, rejected the lightheaded grasshoppers who would continue to play their music.

30The most tangible difference between the potentials and the achievements of the Bauhaus on the one hand and VKhUTEMAS on the other, however, was the fact that their often similar-sounding programmes and curricula hid very different objective realities. The road the Bauhaus had to traverse, from Peter Keler's 1922 red, yellow and blue wooden cradle to Marcel Breuer's tubular furniture and Mies van der Rohe's more sophisticated chairs, was in fact shaped by society's actual demands. After all, society, totally apart from any political overtones, was not interested in Bauhaus experiments in primary colours and basic geometric forms - and much less in the worldview lying behind it all - or in the contents of Itten's Preliminary Course. All It demanded was objects made of sound materials, streamlined products of modern technology: chromium steel and synthetics, in plentiful supply and at a low cost. Let us not forget that the Bauhaus, with all of its innovations, was the continuation of a living tradition. Even the demands formulated by Meyer were, for the most, part and parcel of the industrial aesthetic concepts evolved by the Deutsche Werkbund as early as the 1910s, and, although German industry suffered great losses during the war, it had enough resources left for recovery, and continuity was maintained. The Bauhaus could espouse a new style and worldview because an old one had been in existence. The design and manufacturing technology of artifacts possessed certain powerful traditions, against which it was possible to counterpoise something that was new in approach, besides being of necessity better made and better looking, so that it could compete with the old.

  • 22 Tatlin quoted by N. Punin in the article 'Tatlin and Routine', in the collection of the Punin fami (...)
  • 23 Tatlin, 'The Artist as Designer ot the Way ot Life', originally entitled: 'Khudozhnik - organizato (...)
  • 24 Meyer, 'Der sowjetische Architekt'; in Meyer-Bergner (ed.), op. cit., p. 326.
  • 25 Tatlin, 'The Artist as Designer of the Way of Life', op. cit. 'For us in the Soviet Union, the ben (...)
  • 26 Ibid.
  • 27 Lodder, op. cit., p. 136.

31By way of contrast, VKhUTEMAS and Soviet designers could not lean on such powerful traditions. 'We need objects that are as simple and primitive as our way of life,' said Tatlin,22 and as late as 1929 he directed attention to the facts of life when commenting about modern tubular furniture: 'We, too, conducted experiments in this direction, but early on ... we discovered that the material Itself - steel tubes - was not available because of shortages.'23 Hannes Meyer recalled similar shortages, while in the Soviet Union: 'We had at times very heated clashes with the Soviet reality of those days. There was no concrete, no construction machinery, cement, plywood, glass, tiling material. Nails and screws were worth their weight in gold. We favoured structures without metal.'24 Tatlin, too, confronted his students and readers with the reality that in Russia, wood was the only accessible, universally available material, and therefore, from sledges to bentwood furniture, all too many items had to be conceived and produced in wood.25 And even so, strict economy had to be observed; he recommended thinner laths for bentwood chairs than those used by the Thonet factory, and claimed that this version 'would be less costly than Thonet chairs to mass-produce and would be more comfortable.'26 The choice of materials, which In Germany was a matter of taste, attitude and optimal economy, in the Soviet Union was simply forced by practical necessity. The bentwood objects and furniture produced by Tatlin and his students are not comparable to designs and objects made at the Bauhaus, for the simple reason that there was no comparable free choice of materials. Whereas in 1926 Georg Muche was experimenting with metal dwellings, Rodchenko, the heaa of the VKhUTEMAS metal workshop, attempted to design prefabricated buildings made of standardized wooden elements.27

  • 28 Ibid., pp. 138-9.

32Certain specific ideas had different motivations and aims in East and West. The 1923 Bauhaus exhibition featured Alma Buscher's multifunctional children's furniture series, products of a spirit of functionality and free play. Meanwhile, the multifunctional furniture designs developed In VKhUTEMAS workshops - the work of Sobolev, Morozov and Galaktyonov28 - were dictated by dire necessity: given the extreme shortage of apartments, families that were squeezed into a single room needed tables that a single turn could change into a seat or a workbench, or chairs that could convert into beds. Here, too, shortages directed the designer, a far cry from the luxury of playfulness. (Furniture expressly intended for children was not even designed at VKhUTEMAS.)

33These facts in part reveal how the East and the West differed in their interpretations of the terms Constructivism and Functionalism.

  • 29 Källai, 'Stilus?', op. cit., and a similar writing, 'Zehn Jahre Bauhaus', op. cit.
  • 30 Kállai. 'Das Geistige I'm Kunst' (catalogue introduction); in Blätter der Galerie Ferdinand Möller (...)
  • 31 M. Yasinskaya. Sovefskie tkany 1920-1930 godov (Soviet Textiles 1920-1930), Khudozhnik RSFSR Publi (...)

34In the West the new design quite simply became fashionable, just like anything that could be bought or sold. Ernó Kállai, like most Bauhaus people, was at first astounded by the prospect that the Bauhaus mentality could be simply summed up as a style.29 One year later he recognized that this was one of society's fundamental strategies vis-à-vis intellectual values: in the act of extracting and integrating them it lowered them to its own level. 'To remain a stranger to the department store mentality, the world of sensationalism and ready-made goods: this is the best one can say about art today. Art cannot keep a great enough distance from this sort of reality.'30 While in the West the artist had to make an effort to stay aloof from the levelling force of the daily grind -and its concomitant, the marketplace - Soviet artists did everything possible in order to become part and parcel of the everyday world of consumerism. They accepted nationwide propaganda and decorative design assignments (poster design, agitprop trains, building and street decorations for holidays, etc.) as well as the design and decoration of items in everyday use (tea sets and dinnerware, etc.) or textile design -any means of penetrating into people's lives, precisely into that world of 'sensationalism and ready-made goods', albeit maintaining a claim for universality. In 1923 Pravda published a call for artists to collaborate by executing designs for industrial production. Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter, Varvara Stepanova and Rodchenko were the first to respond. The art historian Roginskaya dubbed these early textile designs by Constructivists 'the first Soviet fashions'.31

  • 32 Géza Perneczky, 'A fekete négyzettö'l a pszeudo-kockáig. Kisériet a kelet-európai avantgard tipoló (...)
  • 33 Ibid., p. 60.

35But these were fashions only for the art historian; in real life, these geometric and propaganda motifs did not win over the consumers. In glaring contrast to the Bauhaus, whose wallpaper designs are manufactured and marketed in Germany to this day, the Constructivist aesthetic did not establish itself in the everyday life of the Soviet Union. The function of art was different, and it still is: in the Soviet Union it never possessed that sober relationship to everyday reality which was present in even the most daring projects of the Bauhaus. Géza Perneczky has pointed out the fact that the Soviet Russian avant-garde artists, above all, drew up plans, visions on paper, that were never realized: 'The visions were not threatened by practical failures.'32 And even though many Soviet Constructivists wished to triumph in everyday life, this did not refer to professional activities such as furniture design, interior decoration or metalwork, as in the case of their Western counterparts. The Russian artist was always expected to be a prophet, and so it is not surprising that instead of design-type work, many of them, such as Malevich and Lissitzky, chose repatriation in the Twenties - not to mention the case of those Hungarian artists who, after the defeat of the Hungarian Commune, escaped to the East rather than to the West. In Perneczky's words: 'The torchlight of the revolution, the promise of fulfilment proved a stronger attraction than the electric light of well-equipped workshops.'33

  • 34 Källai, új magyar pktúra (New Hungarian Painting), Amicus, Budapest, 1926, p. 184. (In German: Ems (...)

36Kállal called attention in 1926 to another aspect of Constructivism. In its standardized, simple, geometric grammar he glimpsed the possibility of escaping, in one fell swoop, from a dense, tangled over-determinism, from sinking into the provincialism of national identity. He wrote: 'It seemed that this formula allowed for an immediate assimilation into the context of the desired new world and its collective … without having to evolve through the stage of national traditions. This possibility, for artists who came from the outlying border regions of European internationalism, had to be a very important consideration. The utopianistic perspectives of Constructivism were a revelation for the unbroken, enthusiastic spirit and flammable imagination of the Eastern temperament.'34

37It was largely because of this peripheral situation of the East, coupled with the idiosyncratic Russian attitude towards art, that a rational vision of the future, which, in the West, smoothly translated into functionalist design, became coupled with such profound irrationalism In the Eastern half of Europe.

Notes

1 The article published in Khudozhestvennaya zhizn. 4/5,1920, pp. 23-4 is referred to In Christina Lodder, Russian Constructivism. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1983, p. 291.

2 H. and L. Scheper. 'Open Letter to VKhUTEIN Students, 1930'; in Hubertus Gassner and Eckhart Gilten, Zwischen Revolufionskunsf und Sozialistischem Realismus. Dokumente und Kommentare. Kunstdebatten in der Sowietunion von 1917 bis 1934. DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne, 1979, pp. 162-3. It encourages the students to make a more radical break with traditions. See also L. Scheper, 'Ausstellungen an einer Ausstellung'. Moskauer Rundschau, no. 22,1 June 1930; in Gassner and Gilten, pp. 193-4.

3 INKhUK (Institut Khudozhestvennoy Kultury) functioned from May 1920 to 1 January 1922 in Moscow, when it was reorganized as an autonomous department of the Academy of Arts, and functioned as such until early 1924. it supported independent research projects.

4 Cf. chapter 8. quotes belonging to notes 10 and 11.

5 Troels Anderson, Malevich. catalogue to his exhibition. Stockholm, 1970, p. 13.

6 See chapter 7, note 47.

7 Ibid.

8 Quoted by German Karginov in Rodchenko, Corvina, Budapest, 1975, p. 123.

9 Nikolai Punin, 'Khram ili zavod?' (Cathedral or Factory?); in Isskustvo kommuny [Art of the Collective), no. 1,1918, p. 3; republished in Gassner and Gilten, op. cit., p. 82.

10 Gropius in Ja) Stimmen des Arbeitsrats für Kunst, Berlin, 1919; quoted by Hüter, op. cit., p. 207.

11 Short for zaumenny ('beyond meaning'). Tatlin designed the sets for Khlebnikov's play Zangezi.

12 In connection with VKhUTEMAS I chiefly relied on the following historical and source works: Lodder, op. cit., chapter 4; Gassner and Gilten, op. cit., chapter entitled 'Freie Staatliche Kunstwerkstätten (SVOMAS), Höhere Staatliche-Künstlerlsch-Technische Werkstätten (VKhUTEMAS), Höheres Staatliches Künstlerisch-Technisches Institut (VKhUTEIN)'; Allna Abramova, 'VKhUTEMAS-VKhUTEIN', inMoskovskoe Vysshee Khudozhesrvenno-Promyshiennoe Uchilishche 1925-1965 (Moscow Higher Art-Industrial Institute 1925-1965). Moscow, 1965; Karginov (ed.), VKhUTEMAS - Tanulmánygyûjitemény (Essays), Magyar IparmüVeszeti Fölskokj, Budapest, 1989.

13 Lodder. op. cit., p. 123.

14 Ibid., pp. 124-5.

15 Ibid., pp. 113 and 124.

16 Ibid., p. 114.

17 L. Leizerov. 'Evaluation of the VKhUTEMAS Painting Faculty's 1927 Conference'; in Gassner and Gilten, op. cit., p. 159.

18 Ibid.

19 Walter Gropius's letter to Adolf Behne, 16 September 1919; in Hüter, op. cit., p. 213.

20 Cf. Ilya Ehrenburg, Emberek, évek, életem (autobiography), Gondolat, Budapest, 1963; Part Two, especially p. 271: 'The futurists thought that people's tastes could be changed as rapidly as the economic structure of society, in Isskustvo kommuny one would read, "We indeed claim, and would hardly resist the opportunity to use, government power for the realization of the ideals of our art", etc'

21 Gropius, 'Stellungnahme des Bauhauses zu einer Eingabe des "Künstlerbundes Ostthüringen", die Beziehung zwischen Kunst und Staat betreffend, 26 September 1919'; In Hüter, op. cit., p. 213.

22 Tatlin quoted by N. Punin in the article 'Tatlin and Routine', in the collection of the Punin family. St Petersburg; published in L. Zhadova (ed.), Tatlin, Corvina, Budapest, 1983.

23 Tatlin, 'The Artist as Designer ot the Way ot Life', originally entitled: 'Khudozhnik - organizator byta', and published in Rabus, 25 November 1929, p. 4; republished in Zhadova, op. cit., pp. 246-7.

24 Meyer, 'Der sowjetische Architekt'; in Meyer-Bergner (ed.), op. cit., p. 326.

25 Tatlin, 'The Artist as Designer of the Way of Life', op. cit. 'For us in the Soviet Union, the bent tubular frame sled popular in the United States Is unsuitable... Therefore in place of the steel tubes we substitute bent maple laths, similar to that used for Thonet furniture. That maple-wood sleds are more advantageous for us Is obvious. There are whole forests of material available, and the production is far less expensive than that of metal tube sleds.'

26 Ibid.

27 Lodder, op. cit., p. 136.

28 Ibid., pp. 138-9.

29 Källai, 'Stilus?', op. cit., and a similar writing, 'Zehn Jahre Bauhaus', op. cit.

30 Kállai. 'Das Geistige I'm Kunst' (catalogue introduction); in Blätter der Galerie Ferdinand Möller. Berlin, 1929.

31 M. Yasinskaya. Sovefskie tkany 1920-1930 godov (Soviet Textiles 1920-1930), Khudozhnik RSFSR Publishers, Leningrad, 1977, p. 21.

32 Géza Perneczky, 'A fekete négyzettö'l a pszeudo-kockáig. Kisériet a kelet-európai avantgard tipológlájának megalapozásära' (From the Black Square to the Pseudo-Cube. An experiment in establishing a typology for the East European avant-garde); In A korszak mint mualkotás (The Age as a Work of Art), Corvina, Budapest, 1988, p. 59.

33 Ibid., p. 60.

34 Källai, új magyar pktúra (New Hungarian Painting), Amicus, Budapest, 1926, p. 184. (In German: Emst Källai, Neue Malerei in Ungarn. Klinkhardt und Biermann, Leipzig, 1926.

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