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Unlike Dada, Constructivism did not attack or subvert art, but extended it in new directions through experimentation and the exploration of new technologies. Constructivists embraced the machine as a means for creating art, and were excited by the mechanical production process that had the potential to reproduce images on a mass scale.

— Petra Kayser

For a brief period from 1922 to 1923, Germany was the centre of the art movement known as International Constructivism. Having emerged in Russia after World War I, Constructivism developed in Germany as a set of ideas and practices that experimented with abstract or non-representational forms and in opposition to Expressionism and Dada. The Constructivists developed works and theories that fused art with technology in response to the age of the machine. They shared a utopian belief in social reform, and saw abstract art as playing a central role in this process.

El Lissitzky developed his idea of abstract art through Prouns (projects for the affirmation of the new in art). He was committed to revolutionising all forms of art, including painting, printmaking, typography, book design, decorative arts and architecture. László Moholy-Nagy sought to create a new abstract art for a dynamic modern society. He advocated the idea that photography was a revolutionary extension of human sight and proposed that the camera was the vehicle through which artists could best capture the brave new world. This selection of photographs reveals a widely varied range of attitudes towards the machine, from romantic idealism to documentary realism.

Focus work

László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946)
Berlin radio tower c1928

Year 7-12 Visual Arts: issues for consideration

  • Consider the artwork by László Moholy-Nagy. What does the artwork reveal to us about the artists ideas, thoughts and interests? Is the meaning and purpose of Berlin radio tower 1928 clear to the viewer? Critically analyse this image and compare your conclusions with further reading of the artist’s intention.
  • As well as photography, László Moholy-Nagy experimented with a broad range of media including painting, printmaking, stage design, typography, sculpture and film. Research why the artist preferred to explore diverse approaches and how this benefits the artwork.
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to exploring a variety of techniques and materials? Create a body of work based on a particular theme showing a diversity of approaches.
  • Abstraction and technology played an important role in developing artworks of this period. Compare German constructivists with contemporary artists that explore similar themes. How has abstraction evolved and has technology changed the aesthetics of the art form?

László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946)
Berlin radio tower c1928
gelatin silver photograph, 36 × 25.5 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund
Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
© László Moholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney