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The Artist as Producer

Russian Constructivism in Revolution

Maria Gough (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 268 pages
ISBN: 9780520226180
May 2005
$85.00, £62.95
The Artist as Producer reshapes our understanding of the fundamental contribution of the Russian avant-garde to the development of modernism. Focusing on the single most important hotbed of Constructivist activity in the early 1920s—the Institute of Artistic Culture (INKhUK) in Moscow—Maria Gough offers a powerful reinterpretation of the work of the first group of artists to call themselves Constructivists. Her lively narrative ranges from famous figures such as Aleksandr Rodchenko to others who are much less well known, such as Karl Ioganson, a key member of the state-funded INKhUK whose work paved the way for an eventual dematerialization of the integral art object.

Through the mining of untapped archives and collections in Russia and Latvia and a close reading of key Constructivist works, Gough highlights fundamental differences among the Moscow group in their handling of the experimental new sculptural form—the spatial construction—and of their subsequent shift to industrial production. The Artist as Producer upends the standard view that the Moscow group's formalism and abstraction were incompatible with the sociopolitical imperatives of the new Communist state. It challenges the common equation of Constructivism with functionalism and utilitarianism by delineating a contrary tendency toward non-determinism and an alternate orientation to process rather than product. Finally, the book counters the popular perception that Constructivism failed in its ambition to enter production by presenting the first-ever case study of how a Constructivist could, and in fact did, operate within an industrial environment. The Artist as Producer offers provocative new perspectives on three critical issues—formalism, functionalism, and failure—that are of central importance to our understanding not only of the Soviet phenomenon but also of the European vanguards more generally.
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Made in Moscow

1. COMPOSITION AND CONSTRUCTION
Motivation
Vasily Kandinsky’s Inaugural Program: The Psychology of Expression and Perception
Medium-Specificity: The Working Group of Objective Analysis
Historicizing Medium-Specificity: In the Galleries of Sergei Shchukin
Differentiating Composition and Construction
The Debate’s Broader Contexts

2. IN THE LABORATORY OF CONSTRUCTIVISM
Tableaux
The Advent of a New Form
The Program
The Gallery
A Catalogue of Cold Structures (and One Mechanism)
Systemic Invention

3. FORMULATING PRODUCTION
Declaration and Dilemma
The Constructivist as Inventor
Two Drawings and the Problem of Sequence
Electrical Circuit (Representation)
Invention, without Determinate End

4. THE DEATH OF THE OBJECT
Not Our Sputnik
The Mortality of Cultures
Intermission: The Spengler Controversy in Russia, 1921–22
The Utopia Silently Contained in the Image of Decline
Nonobjectivity: Urphänomen of Contemporary Culture
Nikolai Tarabukin’s Art of Production

5. RED TECHNICS: THE KONSTRUKTOR IN PRODUCTION
The Archaeology of an Experiment
In the Institute/At the Factory
Prokatchik’s Profile and Reconstruction
The Inventor at the Bench
Party Agitator and Production Organizer
The Artist as Administrator

Conclusion: Constructivism in Revolution
Glossary and Abbreviations
Notes
Selected Bibliography
List of Illustrations
Index
Maria Gough is Associate Professor of Art History at Stanford University
“Important and lucidly written book. . . “—Charlotte Douglas, New York University Modernism/Modernity
"The Artist as Producer confronts the problem of making a politics with art. Gough's balanced rigor in mining obscure archives on the one hand, while performing brilliant readings of recalcitrant artworks on the other gives her account of Constructivism's utopian promise and less-than-utopian outcome great texture. She has produced something very rare: an art-historical study that not only adds to our knowledge but captures the intense poignancy of modern art's serious ambition to undertake a revolution of—and with—form."—David Joselit, Professor, History of Art, Yale University

"To see a sculptor plunging into the politics and the cultural politics of the factory floor is a rare sight indeed in art history. It takes immense historical discipline to do it justice. Maria Gough takes the 'author as producer' question dear to Marxist aesthetics (think of Walter Benjamin, but think also of Trotsky, of Gramsci) and raises it into new relevance. The question always was and is a motor. This book shows us, beautifully, how and why."—Molly Nesbit, Professor of Art, Vassar College

"The Artist as Producer is a remarkable and impressive piece of scholarship, which challenges existing assumptions about Soviet Constructivism and demands that we rethink the movement in its entirety."—Christina Lodder, author of Russian Constructivism

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