Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day -- Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953)

Vladimir Tatlin -- Sailor (1911)

I'm not sure what caused me to think about Vladimir Tatlin this morning, but once I did I began to retrace paths I hadn't taken for years.  It was nice being reminded of many things I had forgotten about this highly appealing and inspiring artist and also a little bit sad to find that I was unable to unearth my favorite Tatlin quote concerning his Daedelus-like flying machine, the Letatlin. (The quote was an exhortation, sort of along the lines of Edgard Varese's "the present-day composer refuses to die", but more broadly pitched, positive and utopian.)  In any event, posting these Tatlin images on the cusp of Labor Day seems appropriate.


Vladimir Tatlin -- Letatlin flying machine (1932)

I first became enthusiastic about Tatlin and some of the other Russian Constructivists in college and I wrote a seminar paper about the movement that actually seemed pretty good when I reread it about 10 years ago.  It's my loss, not the world's, that I misplaced the paper, but I would really like to see the illustrations  (and to retrieve that quote) again.  I once worked in an office building in Manhattan that boasted a wall sculpture by Naum Gabo and an enormous wall mosaic by Joseph Albers.  A friend, who had become enthusiastic about Constructivism, and who now works for a law firm in the same building, asked me what had happened to the Gabo and Albers?  (Apparently, during the building's interior transformation from the very 1960s-like Celanese Building to its current 21st century incarnation as the News Corp. Building -- the owners, ironically, of 20th Century Fox -- both pieces had been removed).  I told him that I didn't know.  He also asked whether the Gabo was a really good one.   I told him that it wasn't and that the piece had aged badly (meaning that the physical materials were looking worn and dirty when they were meant to look eternally shiny and modern), but that working in a building with a mediocre Gabo was much better than working in one with no Gabo at all.

Vladimir Tatlin -- Monument to the Third International (1920) ("The first Russian monument without a beard" -- Vladimir Mayakovsky)

    "Lynton concludes that Tatlin, commissioned in the aftermath of the first world war, must have known from the outset that the monument in these photographs could never be built. The real fulfillment - itself by turns brash and complex, polemical and poetic - of his architectural ambition is to be found instead in the written responses to the scheme. Official reactions were guarded; Trotsky applauded the artist's rejection of traditional forms, but (rather stating the obvious) wondered if the tower didn't look like so much "unremoved scaffolding". The novelist and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg approved of the design, but wrote that most Bolsheviks still preferred the old plaster heads. Tatlin, however, had his champions, notably the critic Nikolai Punin, who hymned the tower as "a synthesis of the different types of art" and welcomed the aesthetic cleansing of old forms: 'the charred ruins of Europe are now being cleared.'

    The tower was an iron stanza scrawled across the frozen cityscape. In other words, it was a complexly readable object in a way that advanced writers of the era hoped their works might become. It referred back to numerous precursors, and forward to several possible futures. It conjured architectural wonders both ancient and modern, real and imagined. It resembled the Tower of Babel, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Pharos lighthouse at Alexandria, the emblematic landmarks of Pisa and Paris. It could even be viewed as a diagram of the thrusting gesture of the Statue of Liberty. At the same time, as the architectural critic Owen Hatherley has pointed out recently in his book Militant Modernism, the Russian avant garde was transfixed by the mythology of the red planet - the tower is also a Martian invention, bestriding St Petersburg like a tripod from The War of the Worlds"  -- Brian Dillon, The Guardian -- 7-25-09

NOTEFor ACravan 2011 "No Labor Day" post, PLEASE CLICK HERE


  1. good work.... :)

  2. Thank you. Tatlin is enduringly inspiring and I'm happy to say that this post has proven one of the most popular ACravan items, which I find gratifying. Thanks for writing. Please visit again soon and write again. Curtis