Painterly Architectonic

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Lyubov Popova

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Painterly Architectonic

Lyubov Popova. Painterly Architectonic. 1917. Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 38 5/8" (80 x 98 cm). Philip Johnson Fund

Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

2008

Curator, Leah Dickerman: In 1912 and 1913 Lyubov Popova studied in Paris. So she was very familiar with the developments of Cubism. She also made trips to Italy where she saw Futurist work firsthand. But unlike either Cubism or Futurism she really takes a jump and severs this connection with the visual world to try to make truly abstract pictures.

This picture was made in 1917, the very year of the Russian Revolution, which shook the established order of things at its foundation. And Popova, like many of the other artists of the Russian avant-garde, ended up allying herself with the new Bolshevik government.

If you were going to have a revolution you'd have to start over from the beginning. So there's this idea that painting could serve as a special kind of laboratory or incubator space for developing ideas about what the visual forms of this new world might look like. And in this she finds the metaphor of architecture very helpful. And the series of work she made in 1916 and 1917, Painterly Architectonic, she develops her own style of painting where she layers these skewed geometric forms on top of each other to create these very dynamic, brightly colored compositions.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 84

In Painterly Architectonic, one of a series of works by this title, Popova arranges areas of white, red, black, gray, and pink to suggest straight-edged planes laid one on top of the other over a white ground, like differently shaped papers in a collage. The space is not completely flat, however, for the rounded lower rim of the gray plane implies that this surface is arching upward against the red triangle. This pressure finds matches in the shapes and placements of the planes, which shun both right angles and vertical or horizontal lines, so that the picture becomes a taut net of slants and diagonals. The composition's orderly spatial recession is energized by these dynamic vectors, along which the viewer's gaze alternately slides and lifts.

Influenced by her long visits to Europe before World War I, Popova helped to introduce the Cubist and Futurist ideas of France and Italy into Russian art. But, no matter how abstract European Cubism and Futurism became, they never completely abandoned recognizable imagery, whereas Popova developed an entirely nonrepresentational idiom based on layered planes of color. The catalyst in this transition was Kazimir Malevich's Suprematism, an art of austere geometric shapes. But where Suprematism was infused with the desire for a spiritual or cosmic space, Popova's concerns were purely pictorial.