Uncompromising war was declared on art

Art That Shaped Our World: Abstract Art, Architecture and Design in Europe, 1914-1939 @ the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich

Art That Shaped Our World: Abstract Art, Architecture and Design in Europe, 1914-1939 @ the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich

By RICHARD INMAN

Constructivism was initiated (1914) in Russia by Vladimir Tatlin who had witnessed in Paris Picasso's Guitar (1912) an object without a base or frame that linked internal and external space.

After the Russian Revolution, machinery was seen as a liberating force. Initially the use of new materials, constructed rather than modelled or carved, was not seen as an abstract style or even an art.

Socially useful art had arrived, traditional fine art was considered dead. An uncompromising war was declared. By 1925 constructivism became a blanket term for any angular design.

This exhibition displays innovative paintings, sculpture, architecture and furniture, constructed to explore movement in space, not volume. Marcel Breuer stated that the mass of his Wassily Armchair (1925) did not overwhelm any room. The 1969 crome plated tubular steel reproduction on show has stretched leather straps, originally a modest fabric. The chair, now adapted to a new aesthetic, is regarded a classic. Remember Mary Martin's door chime (a faceted grid relief); it reflects Catlyn's aims to combine the utilitarian with the symbolic – you may have one!

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Transparent Construction (1940) by Margaret Mellis reflects the open display of materials. Jocelyn Chewett's sensitive cubist forms in wood and stone uphold Garbo and Pevsner's rejection of the social purpose idea (1920) and are spiritually uplifting. This wonderful exhibition portrays not a marginal movement but a fundamental one, that progressively shapes our thinking.

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