Russia! at the Guggenheim

In Art Forum, a review of Russia! at the Guggenheim.

Russian Constructivism, the movement most favored in the West, is represented here by Aleksandr Rodchenko and Vladimir Stenberg, who have in effect been extracted from the vast pool of highly experimental artists working in multimedia production during the period immediately after the revolution. Indeed, they are positioned in a contextual vacuum not only in terms of their historical moment but also regarding their historical consequence. Both Rodchenko’s monochrome triptych Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color, 1921, the culmination of his anti-painting agenda, and Stenberg’s spatial construction Spiral, 1920, one of a handful of surviving works from the laboratory phase of Soviet Constructivism, should have provided the perfect opportunity to discuss the influence these works had on their American postwar successors (even if only on a wall text).

Such poor representation of revolutionary abstraction (ironic in the con-text of an institution formerly called the “Museum of Non-Objective Painting”) came about, I believe, due to the pressure that Russian collectors have brought to bear. Since the 1990s, the first generation of nouveau riche—known for favoring figurative representation—has been hunting after nineteenth-century paintings with far more devotion than abstract ones. This enthusiasm is reflected by the greater presence of such work here, and perhaps hints at the real impulses behind this show.