Entries from September 2012 ↓

The Origin of the Dot in Art History

Nobody owns the Dot. Whether by Damien Hirst, by Indigenous Australians, by their PoMo Appropriationists, or as far back as the Pointillists, the Dot has a serious Art History. Here the eminent art historian John E. Bowlt introduces us to its roots in the revolutionary moments of Soviet Constructivism. Or perhaps, as in this case, Productivism. Here is his exegesis of the work ‘Kinetic Composition’, (1920), by Alexander Michailowitsch Rodtschenko (1891-1956):

The most remarkable aspect of Rodtschenko’s work is the multitude of artistic media and forms. [In] 1912-13 he created works with exotic dancers and femmes fatale in the style of Jugendstil. However, already  in 1915 he had made his first laconic (concise?) abstraction drawn with compass and ruler. Since 1923 Rodschenko concentrated on photography because of its documentary exactness. However , in the same year he created his eccentric often cryptic photo montages for Wladimir Majakowski’s love poems “pro eto”. With other works, like many of his colleagues  of the Russian avant-garde (Iwan Kljun, Kasimir Malewitsch, El Lissitzky), Rodtschenko moved continuously in an unexpected way between the objective and the subjective, what  the art critic Waldemar Maywei called the ‘non- constructive’ and the ‘konstructive’ pole of the artistic experience. This dynamic correlation in Rodtschenko’s aesthetic expression is particularly visible in his oil paintings of the 1910s. On one hand he created monochrome reductions like the series ‘Black on Black’ (1918) or ‘Red, Yellow, Blue’ (1921), and on the other hand he painted his nervous, galvanic expressions as, for example, in ‘Resolution of the Plain” (1921). [This work] ‘Kinetic composition’ can in fact be connected with the non-constructive as well as the constructive impulse. But without doubt there is a direct connection to the series of the cosmic ‘abstractions’, which Rodtschenko created in 1919-20. Generally, the work is in close connection to the topic of (outer) space like many experimental artists of the 1920’s imagined and depicted it (Kjun, Alexander Lobas, Wladimir Ljuschin, etc).

This interest in space developed through the tremendous popularity of Jules Verne and H G Wells in Russia, through the closeness of Komstantin Tziolkowski, the father of the Russian rocket science and through the belief in the abilities of technology.  It inspired many depictions of the stratosphere and space, for example, Malewitsch’s ethereal Suprematism (1918-19), Ljuschin’s drafts of an inter planetary space station from 1922, Iwan Kudriaschew’s forces racing through space (1923-25), and Michal Plaksin’s ‘Planetarium’ (1922).

Rodtschenko was also inspired by these journeys through space. Some of his abstract paintings can be interpreted as depictions of planetary bodies, of eclipse’s, or meteors against the infinite night sky. The painting ‘Kinetic Composition’ has a visual connection to Rodtschenko’s cosmic use of forms from 1919-20 and can at the same time be seen as a formal painting that foreshadows his action paintings of the 1940s. Although microscopic, what fascinates Rodtschenko is recognisable: the interplay of spheres on a monochrome background (black, brown, or grey), or the confrontation of unequal masses and the tension of an asymmetric composition and their symmetric formats. The result is a moving whole that vibrates and oscillates in a breathless tension like the Milky Way in an immaculate night sky.

How this particular “painting” made the transition to the truly kinetic form of the necktie may be lost in history. However, the exegesis above came with the tie. I am obliged to my friends Weston Naef (for the gift) and Christiane Keller (for the translation) for helping me plug this significant gap in our Art Historical knowledge.