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Avant-Garde: Italian, Dutch and Russian Styles Essay

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Italian Futurism

Futurism originated in Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was a broad artistic impulse rather than a movement. It started as a rejection of the values of secession and post-secession. The basic proposition of this approach to art was that industrialization and modernity have to be incorporated into the artistic expression because the proponents of the movement strongly believed that industrialization would improve human society. The values that the proponents of the ideas of futurism shared are industrialization, patriotism, temerity, mechanical speed, etc. In addition, they advocated destruction of the academia. The ideal context for their artistic expression was a modernized city (Frampton, 1992, p. 84).

In architecture, this artistic impulse was shaped as a movement by Antonio Sant’Ellia. In his essay called “Messagio”, he expressed a belief that architecture should be in opposition to the culture of the time, and advocated a shift from static shapes to more dynamic ones. He also thought that new synthetic materials should be incorporated in new structures and the old, traditional ones, such as marble, should be completely abandoned. In his “Manifest of Futurist Architecture”, Sant’Ellia claimed that permanent buildings, such as cathedrals, had become useless, and that new buildings should last shorter than the human lifespan. His sketches of a modern city reflected these ideas to an extent, but he was not able to completely break with the ideas against which he openly spoke (Frampton, 1992, pp. 85-87).

Dutch Neo-Plasticism

In 1918, “Manifesto of de Stijl” was published in the Netherlands. The authors of this short essay attempted to resolve the conflict between the universal and the individual, which had exploded as a consequence of WWI. Under the influence of Spinoza’s philosophy and Calvinist theology, the new movement sought to destroy all traditional forms and shapes, which acted as an obstacle for pure artistic expression to realize itself. This view was in accordance with the modernist tendency to destroy everything that stymies development and modernization. The focus of this movement was on primary colors and orthogonal shapes, and on emphasizing horizontal and vertical dimensions of the world. In addition, all aspects of artistic works were elemental (Frampton, 1992, pp. 142-143).

The architects of this period were interested in furniture and interior design. Van Doesburg is widely considered an embodiment of this movement. He published his “16 Points of a Plastic Architecture”, where he defined its main principles. With these ideas in mind, Rietveld designed the famous Schroder-Schrader House in Utrecht. This house incorporated all of the 16 points suggested by Van Doesburg. He relied heavily on the principles of functionality and economy. The building was an antithesis of cubism and traditional decorative styles. Rietveld described it as anti-monumental and stripped of all unnecessary decorative characteristics (Frampton, 1992, pp. 144-145).

Russian Constructivism

In the aftermath of the Soviet Revolution in 1917, Soviet architects found themselves in a very difficult position. Because of the incredible shortage of resources and imperatives of rapid construction of a first socialist country, they had to reject all the artistic conventions of the day, and design buildings that would be easily constructed by engineers and workers. In the debate that exploded in these new circumstances about the direction in which Soviet architecture should proceed, Naum Gabo said that it would be dangerous and counterproductive to fuse functionalism with pure art and that it would be best to choose one or the other (Frampton, 1992, p. 169).

Gabo was inclined towards the pure art approach; however, productivists, or those who advocated functional and utilitarian aspects, prevailed for economic reasons. Perhaps the most interesting structure built in productivist style is the Monument to the Third International. This monument was an attempt at metaphorically representing how physical elements, such as iron, steel, and concrete, correspond to artistic mental concepts such as a plane, a line, or a circle. The goal was to promote the economic aspect of architecture at the expense of artistic elements. However, the irony was in the fact that a monument such as this one did not have economic purposes (Frampton, 1992, p. 171).

List of References

Frampton, K 1992, Modern architecture: a critical history, Thames and Hudson, London.

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