Aleksandr Rodchenko. Spatial Construction no. 12. c. 1920

Aleksandr Rodchenko Spatial Construction no. 12 c. 1920

  • MoMA, Floor 3, 3 East The Robert B. Menschel Galleries

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

The nesting ovals that compose this construction were measured out on a single sheet of aluminum-painted plywood, precisely cut, then rotated and suspended to make a three-dimensional object suggestive of planetary orbits. It was made at a time of both civic turmoil and great possibility in Russia, when Rodchenko and his fellow Constructivist artists sought to apply aesthetic ideals to everyday materials. They hoped their approach to art would help create a new language for the Communist state. Reflecting back on this time, Rodchenko said, "We created a new understanding of beauty, and enlarged the concept of art."

Gallery label from 2006.

Rodchenko conceived of line as the edge of a plane that is receding in space. In a reverse demonstration of this idea, the nesting ovals that compose this construction were cut from a single sheet of aluminum-painted plywood, then rotated and suspended, transforming what was essentially a plane into a three-dimensional object suggestive of planetary orbits. Rodchenko made this work during a time of civic turmoil and great possibility in Russia, and for him and his Constructivist colleagues line was a component of a new art that would address societal ills, resulting in positive transformation. “In the line a new worldview became clear: to build in essence, and not depict (objectify or non-objectify); build new, expedient, constructive structures in life, and not from life and outside of life,” the artist wrote in 1921.

Gallery label from On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, November 21, 2010-February 7, 2011.

In 1920–21, Rodchenko produced a series of "spatial constructions" that marked abstraction's move from painted surface to three-dimensional object. Each work was based on the principle of repeating a single form: square, circle, triangle, and here, in this only work surviving from the series, ellipse, which the artist cut in concentric bands from a single piece of painted plywood, working from the outer edge to the center. Each spatial construction could be closed to form a flat plane, but when open it became an airy volume suspended above the ground. Simple as they seem, Rodchenko’s spatial constructions declared an end to the devices of traditional sculpture, being without figuration, mass, or pedestal.

Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.

In 1920–21, Rodchenko produced a series of "spatial constructions" that marked abstraction's move from painted surface to three-dimensional object. Each work was based on the principle of repeating a single form: square, circle, triangle, and here, in this only work surviving from the series, ellipse, which the artist cut in concentric bands from a single piece of painted plywood, working from the outer edge to the center. Each spatial construction could be closed to form a flat plane, but when open it became an airy volume suspended above the ground. Simple as they seem, Rodchenko’s spatial constructions declared an end to the devices of traditional sculpture, being without figuration, mass, or pedestal.

Gallery label from 2015.

“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
Medium
Plywood, open construction partially painted with aluminum paint, and wire
Dimensions
24 x 33 x 18 1/2" (61 x 83.7 x 47 cm)
Credit
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
156.1986
Department
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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