Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko

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Photography: Isaak Brodski (1935)

Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko ( Russian Александр Михайлович Родченко , scientific transliteration. Aleksandr Michajlovič Rodčenko ; Nov. 23 * . Jul / 5. December  1891 greg. In Saint Petersburg , † 3. December 1956 in Moscow ) was a Russian and Soviet painter , graphic artist , Photographer and architect .

life and work

Rodchenko was the son of Mikhail Mikhailovich (1852-1907), a landless farmer, and Olga Evdokimovna (1856-1933) Rodchenko, washerwoman, born in 1891 in Saint Petersburg. His father worked as a prop master in the "Russian Club" on Nevsky Prospect , while the family lived in an apartment above. In 1901 the family moved to Kazan , where Alexander Rodchenko attended school until 1905 and trained as a dental technician from 1908–09.

Kazan Art School

Rodchenko then studied with Nikolai Ivanovich Feschin and Georgi Medvedev at the Kazan Art School, where he devoted himself to painting between 1910 and 1912. His paintings from this period are rich in warm tones, red, yellow and ocher, and he also experimented with the contrasting colors blue-red and green-red. After 1912 his interest in black grew. Rodchenko's art in this period was strongly influenced by Art Nouveau and by drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (female figure, 1913). In addition to his studies he gave drawing lessons and painted decorations for clubs. At the Kazan Art School he met his future wife Varvara Stepanova . In 1914 Rodchenko attended the public readings of the futuristic poets Vladimir Mayakovsky , Dawid Burljuk and Vasily Kamensky .

Moving to Moscow - Early Career

Alexander Rodchenko dance , 1915

In 1914 Rodchenko finished his studies at the Kazan Art School and moved to Moscow, where he studied sculpture and architecture for three years at the Stroganov School and increasingly turned to abstract painting . In 1915 he made a series of drawings known as the compass-ruler series. In contrast to Wassily Kandinsky's abstract painting , these pictures do not require any additional theories or associations. After participating in the “Magazin” exhibition organized by Vladimir Tatlin , Rodchenko began to show his works at Moscow exhibitions in 1916 and was thus able to establish himself as an artist of the Russian avant-garde. The following year he redesigned the interior of the “Cafe Pittoresque” together with Tatlin, Georgi Jakulow and other artists. From 1918 to 1922 he worked in the Department of Fine Arts (ISO, Russian Изобразительный Отдел ) of the Commissariat for Popular Education (Narkompros, Russian Народный Коммиссариат Просвещения ) as a member of the Museum of Fine Arts . At the same time he was chairman of the acquisition committee for the Museum of Artistic Culture and, together with Olga Rosanowa, was responsible for the sub-department of industrial art . 1918-26 he worked as a teacher for the theory of painting at the Moscow "Proletkult School".

Lineism and spatial constructions

From September 1919 to October 1920 Rodchenko lived with his wife Varvara Stepanova in the house of Wassily Kandinsky at Dolgy-Gasse 8. From 1918 to 1920 they took part in the 5th, 10th and 19th State Painting Exhibition together. In 1919 Rodchenko began work on a large cycle of linear compositions that he called "lineism". The artist's intention was to show that the line can function as an independent form in painting and graphics. In another series that was created in parallel, Rodchenko was more radical and more definitive in his conception of sculpture. He dispensed with the traditional base and a main view and based each work on a modular principle. The "lineism" formed the basis for Rodchenko's subsequent spatial constructions, which Rodchenko created in 1920/21. The spatial constructions are generally formed from lines and surface figures that are statically or dynamically attached to an axis at different angles. In the beginning, the artist worked with closed geometric structures, consisting of straight elements in the shape of a circle, triangle or rectangle, and solving simple spatial problems. Later he added surface elements with curved contours and open shapes, which accentuate the space and intensify the light-shadow effects. The later room constructions represent the solution to more complicated spatial relationships. Originally, the artist wanted to make the work from white light metal, but since refined metal was not available at that time, he had to use thin, white-painted plywood.


The experimental sculptures by Tatlin and Rodchenko from the early 1920s, with their emphasis on material, technical, functional and standardized forms, have a lot in common with the later goals and ideas of minimalism , such as those formulated by Donald Judd . Rodchenko used simple, unprocessed square timbers of the same length, which he put together in different formations without a base.

Another step in Rodchenko's artistic development was the series of objects from 1920–21. They are movable structures hanging freely from the ceiling. These consist of thin plywood, which the artist cut into various geometric shapes: squares, hexagons, ellipses, etc. a. Rodchenko again separated concentric elements of the same width from these figures, which "fold out" in space so that the surface becomes a three-dimensional sculpture. Due to the movable suspension, the viewing side and the incidence of light change constantly.

Rodchenko, together with his wife Stepanova, devoted himself intensively to art as an experiment; the artist here is both a researcher and a scientist; the construction, the system, the appropriate use of materials are in the foreground of the artistic analyzes and experiments. Both are central figures in the second phase of the Russian avant-garde, constructivism . In spite of all practical application, Rodchenko's theory of constructivism has a strongly utopian trait, the belief in a world that is organized according to clear principles, in an immovable order in which everything living has its fixed place. “Life, this simple thing, has not been seen until now, not known that it is so simple and so clear that one only has to organize it and rid it of everything superfluous. Work for life and not for palaces and temples, not for cemeteries and museums! Working among everyone, for everyone and with everyone. There is nothing eternal, everything is fleeting. Consciousness, experience, goal, mathematics, technology, industry and construction - that is paramount. Long live constructive technology. Long live the constructive attitude in every activity. Long live constructivism ”(Rodchenko 1921).

In 1921, Alexander Rodchenko exhibited a triptych in the exhibition “5 × 5 = 25” in Moscow , which consisted of three monochrome canvases (62 × 52.5 cm each) in the colors red, yellow and blue. The artist said: “I brought painting to its logical end and exhibited three pictures: a red, a blue and a yellow, and this with the statement: everything is over. It's the basic colors. Every surface is a surface and there should no longer be any representation. "

End of pure art - productivism

From 1920 to 1923 Rodchenko and Stepanova were members of the Institute for Artistic Culture (INChUK) . From 1920 to 1921 Rodchenko also belonged to the group for objective analysis.

In the 1920s he worked as a painter and graphic artist and mainly created commissioned works. After that he gave up the attempts and experiments in the field of pure art and turned to productivist art. The ideology of productivism rejected the traditional function of art, exhibited in museums or used as decoration. Rodchenko was engaged in work in the field of graphics, design and handicrafts. According to Rodchenko, art should leave the museum and become an element of social being in the form of objects. From that moment on Rodchenko's art took on a social character. From 1920 to 1930 Rodchenko was professor at the art schools in Moscow ( Wchutemas ) and Leningrad ( Vchutein ), from 1922 dean at the faculty for metalworking.

In 1921/22 he tried his hand at theater, film and polygraphy at the same time, took part in competitions for badges, trademarks and everyday objects, worked on projects for work clothing and made sketches for a tea set. He also worked for Alexei Gan's magazine Kino-fot . From 1923 Rodchenko worked in the field of typography for the publishers Molodaja Gwardia , Gosisdat , Krug , Transpechat , the magazines LEF , Nowy LEF and others. a. Commercial advertising and polygraphy were the first areas in which Rodchenko worked not only occasionally, but from 1923 onwards.

Book design and collage

His new circle of interests led to a close creative collaboration with the famous and influential poet Vladimir Mayakovsky . He created illustrations for his poem “Pro eto”, in which the poet sings about his love for Lilja Brik and in which Rodchenko assembles her portraits of different ages in all possible variations. The result is a unique connection between photomontage and constructivist design, whereby Mayakowski's verses are visually modeled.

Rodchenko and Mayakovsky jointly produced around 50 posters, almost 100 company signs, packing and candy paper templates, neon advertising and picture advertising for newspapers and magazines in just under two years. They worked for the department store GUM , Mosselprom , Gosisdat, Resinotorg and for the unions. The content of Mayakovsky's and Rodchenko's advertising activities went far beyond advertising the products of state-owned companies. The poet and the artist agitated for the development of technology, the improvement of working conditions and other social concerns. Rodchenko's style of advertising graphics was simple and clear and harmonized with the laconic, playful two-line lines of Mayakovsky. The advertising texts and images were functional, free of any superfluous information. Rodchenko worked with large, simply shaped, easily legible letters and often used large exclamation marks and question marks. The use of the arrow in the composition, the symmetrically arranged letters and other graphic elements made it easier for the viewer to decipher the poster.

Rodchenko was the first artist in the USSR to work with the technique of collage . He preferred abstract collages in which he created abstract combinations from non-figurative elements or by combining newspaper or photo fragments with non-figurative elements. Rodchenko switched from collage to photomontage.


Influenced by Dadaism , Rodchenko came to photography through photomontage, and soon became an important representative of the Russian constructivists . He was particularly known for his unusual perspectives, but also for the strong abstract graphic effect of his photos. Under the influence of the changed political guidelines in the 1930s, he turned to reportage and sports photography before giving up photography entirely in 1942 and working again as a painter.

Famous recordings are e.g. B. The stairs , girl with Leica or portrait of the mother . His standard cameras were the Leica and the FED from the Soviet manufacturer FED ( Charkow ; today's Ukraine ).


Alexander Rodtschenko and Varvara Stepanova have a daughter, Varvara Rodtschenko (* 1925), who also became an artist. Their son Alexander Lavrentjew (* 1954) is a professor at the State Artistic-Technical Academy SG Stroganow in Moscow.

The First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin in 1922 showed Rodchenko's painting convention , construction , Black Composition , red color , composition , Suprematism and some drawings for architectural projects.

Works (selection)

see: List of the works of Alexander Rodchenko

Exhibitions during his lifetime

  • 2nd Periodic Painting Exhibition , Kazan, 1913
  • 3rd Periodic Painting Exhibition , Kazan, 1913
  • 5th Painting Exhibition , Perm, 1914
  • Futuristic exhibition “Magasin” , Moscow, 1914
  • 4. Exhibition for painting and sculpture “Contemporary Art” , Moscow, 1914
  • "5 Years of Work" , Club of the Left Federation of the Union of Artists and Painters, Moscow, 1918 (solo exhibition)
  • First painting exhibition of the Union of Artists and Painters (ISO Narkompros ) , Moscow, 1918
  • V. State Painting Exhibition , Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1919
  • X. State Painting Exhibition “Non-Objective Art and Suprematism” (ISO Narkompros) , Moscow, 1919
  • 1st State Painting Exhibition of Local and Moscow Artists , Vitebsk, 1919
  • III. Painting exhibition , Ryazan , 1919
  • XI. State exhibition of works by members of the Association for Applied Arts and Product Design , Moscow, 1919
  • XIX. State Exhibition of the All-Russian Central Exhibition Bureau of ISO Narkompros , Moscow, 1920
  • Second exhibition by OBMOChU , Moscow, May 22 to June 1921
  • 5 x 5 = 25 , VSP (Club of the All-Russian Poets Association), Moscow, September to October 1921
  • Exhibition for the 3rd World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern), Moscow, 1921
  • 3rd Soviet Traveling Exhibition of Fine Arts , Sovetsk , 1921
  • First Russian Art Exhibition Berlin 1922 , Galerie Van Diemen & Co Berlin , October 15 to the end of 1922; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam , April 29 to May 28, 1923
  • Stage design and costume art in Moscow 1918–1923 , Museum of Decorative Painting, Moscow, 1923
  • XIV. International Art Exhibition Biennale , Venice, 1924
  • Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et industriels modern , Parc Esplanade des Invalides, Paris, April 28th to October 25th 1925
  • First film poster exhibition , Moscow State Academy of Fine Arts, 1925
  • Second film poster exhibition , Chamber Theater, Moscow, 1926
  • International Theater Exhibition , New York, 1926
  • All-Union Exhibition of Printing , Main Building of the All-Union Exhibition of Agriculture, Moscow, 1927
  • International Book Art Exhibition (IBA) , Leipzig, 1927
  • Ten Years of Soviet Photography , Moscow State Academy of Fine Arts, 1928
  • XXIII. International Photo Salon , Paris, 1928
  • VIII International Photo Salon , New Westminster , 1928
  • II. Italian Salon for International Photographic Art , Turin , 1928
  • Modern book art , International Exhibition , Cologne, 1928
  • 10 years of Russian drawing after the October Revolution , Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 1928
  • Film and photo , exhibition of the Deutscher Werkbund , Stuttgart, 1929
  • First International Photo Salon , Chicago, 1929
  • First International Exhibition of Photography , Vienna, 1929
  • W. Mayakovsky. 20 years of work , State Literature Museum, Moscow, 1930
  • First exhibition of the “October” Association , Culture and Recreation Park, Moscow, 1930
  • Exhibition of Soviet Photography and Film , Paris, 1930
  • Exhibition of photos and film photos from the Soviet Union in the Netherlands , Amsterdam, 1930
  • Exhibition of works by the photo group “October” , House of the Press, Moscow, 1931
  • Contemporary Soviet Art , New York, 1932
  • Exhibition of Soviet Art , Koenigsberg, 1932
  • On the construction site of the Moscow-Volga Canal , Dmitrov , 1933
  • 15 years of fine arts of the RSFSR 1917–1932 , Moscow, 1933
  • Exhibition of Soviet graphics, photography, book and poster art , Madrid, 1933
  • X. International Photo Salon , Saragossa , 1934
  • Exhibition of the Association of Polish Photographers , Warsaw, 1934
  • Exhibition of the Masters of Soviet Photographic Art , Moscow, 1935
  • International Photo Salon , Prague, 1936
  • I. All-Union Exhibition of Photo Art , Moscow, 1937
  • World Exhibition , Press Section of the Soviet Pavilion , Paris, 1937
  • Contemporary Russian Photography , London, 1937
  • XXXII. International Photo Salon , Paris, 1937
  • I. All-Union Exhibition of Photo Art , Leningrad, 1938
  • All-Union exhibition for the 20th anniversary of the Communist Youth Union , Moscow, 1938
  • XXXIII. International Photo Salon , Paris, 1938
  • XII. International Photo Salon “Iris” , Antwerp , 1938
  • International Photo Salon , Prague, 1938
  • Soviet photo art exhibition , Kaunas , 1938
  • International Photographic Exhibition , Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston , 1939
  • Eighth International Photo Salon , Boston, 1939
  • VI. Salon of photography "Albert I" , Charleroi , 1939
  • International Press Exhibition , New York, 1939
  • VIII International Photo Art Exhibition , Zagreb, 1939
  • International Photo Salon , Helsinki , 1945
  • Second International Photo Salon , Cairo , 1947
  • First exhibition of Moscow Book Artists , Moscow, 1948
  • Exhibition of photographic art , Central House of Journalists, Moscow, 1955


  • Александр Родченко: Фотографии. Москва: Издат. Планета, 1987, Russian (Alexander Rodchenko: Photographs , Moscow: Planeta, 1987)
  • Exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin and Berliner Festspiele (ed.): Alexander Rodtschenko. Berlin 2008.
  • Renate Heidt Heller (Red.): Alexander Rodtschenko and Varwara Stepanowa. Works from Soviet museums, the Rodchenko family collection, and other collections. Duisburg 1982.
  • German Karginov: Rodschenko . Budapest 1979.
  • Alexander Lavrentiev: Alexander Rodchenko: Photography 1924-1954. Cologne 1995.
  • Peter Noever : Alexander M. Rodchenko, Varvara F. Stepanowa, the future is our only goal… . ( Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna , May 1, 1991 to July 31, 1991; Pushkin Museum, Moscow , autumn 1991). Munich 1991.
  • Ródtxenko. La construcció del futur. Barcelona 2008. (Catalog of the exhibition of the Caixa Catalunya Barcelona)
  • Margarita Tupitsyn : Alexander Rodschenko - The new Moscow. Schirmer / Mosel (catalog of the traveling exhibition of the Sprengel Museum Hanover with photographs from the L. and G. Tarunz collection)
  • Book for the exhibition 16. Russian Avantgarde 1910-1930 Collection Ludwig, Cologne. in the Kunsthalle Cologne, April 16 - May 11, 1986 (edited and with an introduction by Evelyn Weiss)
  • Eberhard Roters (Ed.): First Russian Art Exhibition: Berlin 1922. Galerie van Diemen & Co., Berlin 1922. (Reprint: König, Cologne 1988, ISBN 3-88375-085-9 , commented by Horst Richter)

Web links

Commons : Alexander Rodchenko  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Biography of Alexander Michailowitsch Rodchenko at Art Directory