Following on from Cubism, the art world was finding new ways of expressing form and indeed movement. Picasso and Braque led this revolution and in Italy Futurism with artists such as Carlo Carra and Umberto Boccioni, movement in works of art were taken to new levels. Gleizes and Metzinger, in their essay on Cubism, wrote: "Let the picture imitate nothing and let it present nakedly its raison d'être"¹ This was a defining statement for the whole of the 20th Century, it expressed the wish to expunge representational art. In Holland the Dutch school through a group called De Stijl, people like Mondrian and Van Doesburg further explored this new plastic art which totally ignored the appearance of things, i.e. natural form and colour, in favour of positional relationships, i.e. how one thing relates to another in an harmonic way.
Meanwhile during the Russian Revolution of 1917, art reflected the massive rate of historic and social change that was taking place in the country. Under the patronage of Ivan Morozov, the then modern works of Cezanne and Mondrian , Matisse and Picasso became part of his collection. Influenced by the latest work from the West artists such as Mikkhail Larionov and Natalia Gonchorova became leaders of the avant-garde. However, they eventually left Russia with the Impressario, Diaghilev as designers for his ballet.
The gap was filled by the artists Kasimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin, who were soon discovered by the remaining Larionov group.
Malevich started to develop a type of Cubism similar to that of Leger and Picasso, which eventually led to fragmented collage similar in style to the work of Kurt Schwitters of the later Dada movement. He worked for Kruchenikh's Futurist opera where he designed costumes and backdrops, one of which was a square divided into black and white triangles. This idea led to the purely abstract squares, oblongs and triangles which formed the basis of Suprematism.
Tatlin's art took a slightly different path. He moved to Moscow in 1910 and started exhibiting with the Larionov circle and was influence by him and Goncharova. But in 1913 he quarrelled with them and eventually ended up in Paris seeing the collage work of Picasso which was to inspire Tatlin who then returned to Moscow. The First and Last Futurist Exhibitions then followed, where both artists exhibited their work, but eventually in separate rooms as Tatlin regarded Malevich's work as amateur.
After the Revolution changes in the Art Colleges produced the Vkhutemas where Malevich, Tatlin, Kandinsky and Pevsner had studios. The Institute of Artistic Culture was formed and Kandinsky formulated their programme. His ideas were radical and influenced by his religious beliefs, he was a Theosophist like Mondrian. However, he left Russia and his programme was introduced at the Bauhause in Weimar.
Malevich was sympathetic to Kandinsky's ideas but remained independent. When invited by Chagall to become a tutor, Malevich accepted but took advantage of Chagall's temporary absence to declare himself Director and change the name of the school to College of the New Art. He introduced Suprematism believing it to be more pure than Futurism and Cubism, as a non-objective art form. He met with opposition from the Constructivists who held that 'absolute' objective objects were constructed in the same way that universe constructs its mathematical orbits. Tatlin was more sympathetic to the Constructivist ideals and designed objects including the Monument to the Third International Exhibition of 1919-10. Eventually as the new Central Government became established, the avant-garde movement of Constructivism was decried and Kandinsky, Pevsner and Gabo left Russia in 1922 to work at the Bauhaus. El Lissitzky's work was heavily influenced by Malevich and his 'Proun' abstracts were geometric designs for offering a combination of art using imagery and lettering in new ways. His street poster "Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge" illustrates this. He too left Russia in 1922 and became influential on De Stijl, and the Bauhaus, eventually returning to Russia as a designer of exhibitions and posters. The Bauhaus effectively adopted some of the ideas of Constructivism through the Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who said that art "is the senses"²
Reference: Modern Art edited by David Britt, Cubism, Futurism and Constuctivism, J M Nash, Published 1974
1. Page 191
2. Page 201