Aleksandr Rodchenko Spatial Construction no. 12 c. 1920

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 507 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Rodchenko created Spatial Construction no. 12 by cutting concentric bands from a single sheet of painted plywood. Transforming the flat plane into an open, airy, three-dimensional object suspended in space, he dispensed with the sculptural traditions of figuration, mass, and pedestal. “We created a new understanding of beauty,” the artist later reflected, “and enlarged the concept of art.”

Gallery label from 2022
Additional text

Composed of ovals that nest and intersect, Spatial Construction no. 12 hangs suspended, moving slowly with any current of air. The ovals were measured out on a single flat sheet of plywood, precisely cut, then rotated within each other to make a three-dimensional object. The resulting form suggests a chart of planetary orbits, a cosmic structure. In companion pieces, Rodchenko applied the same principle and method to other basic geometric shapes, such as the square, but those works no longer survive.

Rodchenko’s interest in mathematical systems reflects the scientific bent of the Russian Constructivists, artists who aspired to create a radically new, radically rational art for the society that came into being with the Russian Revolution. Spatial Construction no. 12 is a stage in Rodchenko’s progress away from conventional painting and toward an art taking place in space—ultimately, an art of social involvement. The work has no clear top or bottom, and no base to rest on. It is virtually weightless, with suspension and movement replacing mass. In short, it was designed to be everything traditional sculpture was not—to reimagine art from ground zero. The artist later reflected, “We created a new understanding of beauty, and enlarged the concept of art.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

“The art of the future will not be cozy decorations for domestic apartments,” Rodchenko declared. To create Spatial Construction no. 12, he made a series of concentric cuts to a single flat plane that can then be opened up as a three-dimensional geometric volume. Traces of aluminum paint on the work’s plywood parts suggest that it was a prototype for a metal version. Rodchenko envisioned using multicolored spotlights to illuminate his metallic spatial constructions, triggering a kaleidoscopic play of hues, reflections, and shadows.

Gallery label from Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction—The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, October 21, 2019–March 14, 2020
Plywood, open construction partially painted with aluminum paint, and wire
24 x 33 x 18 1/2" (61 x 83.7 x 47 cm)
Acquisition made possible through the extraordinary efforts of George and Zinaida Costakis, and through the Nate B. and Frances Spingold, Matthew H. and Erna Futter, and Enid A. Haupt Funds
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

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George Costakis
Artco-Costakis Collection (Art Co. Ltd., Nassau, Bahamas / Cayman Islands.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase, 1986

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