Suprematism, Constructivism (1917-1922)

Suprematism and Constructivism are two opposite art movement both originated in Russia in the 20th Century.  After the Russian Revolution, Russian artists also absorbed Cubism and Futurism to coin a term called Cubo-Futurism.

El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1920

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Kazimir Malevich, a Russian avant-garde, was the pioneer of geometric abstract art. He used abstraction, and non-objective geometric patterns in a style and artistic movement he called Suprematism. Suprematism is not about a feeling, but of a sensation, while Constructivism emerged when a series of artists rejected the idea of “art for art’s sake” and began devoting themselves to the practical arts of industrial design and other visual communications.


The Suprematism of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich took the essential aspects of Cubist painting to their extremes. Malevich believed that art could be free from the representation of recognizable figures and objects. By no longer having to worry about how to depict external reality, art could develop its own language of forms and create new realities ‘no less significant than the realities of nature itself’.

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematism, 1915

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The key elements of Suprematist art for Malevich were the straight line and the square, which reflected his emphasis on the man-made rather than the forms found in nature. ‘Under Suprematism’, said Malevich, ‘I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art.’ A pure black square was, he insisted, the true ‘zero of form’, the white space that stretched away behind it the empty void.


Alexander Rodchenko, 1920

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While Malevich felt strongly that art should have no connection with society, other painters in Russia in this period, known broadly as the ‘Constructivists’, had a more pragmatic and rigorous approach to non-representational painting. In around 1911, Mikhail Larionov had developed a style he called ‘Rayonnism’, a means of breaking up objects through rays of light, colours and textures. Alexander Rodchenko  worked on paintings based on abstract principles, which he would later call ‘non-objective’, such as a series of works created in 1914 with the help of a ruler and compass. Liubov Popova (1889–1924) produced linear architectonic compositions. All of these painters were involved in the applied arts, creating theatre designs, book-bindings, textiles and posters, so that their artistic experiments had a public, practical application.

Which are the differences?

Constructivism VS Suprematism

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  • Malevich’s Suprematism is fundamentally opposed to the postrevolutionary positions of Constructivism and materialism. Constructivism, with its cult of the object, is concerned with utilitarian strategies of adapting art to the principles of functional organization. Under Constructivism, the traditional easel painter is transformed into the artist-as-engineer in charge of organizing life in all of its aspects. Suprematism, in sharp contrast to Constructivism, embodies a profoundly anti-materialist, anti-utilitarian philosophy.
  • Suprematism does not embrace a humanist philosophy which places man at the center of the universe. Rather, Suprematism envisions man—the artist—as both originator and transmitter of what for Malevich is the world’s only true reality—that of absolute non-objectivity.
  • Jean-Claude Marcadé has observed that “Despite superficial similarities between Constructivism and Suprematism, the two movements are nevertheless antagonists and it is very important to distinguish between them.” According to Marcadé, confusion has arisen because several artists, such as El Lissitzky, later abandoned Suprematism for the culture of materials.

Constructivist Graphic Design

The book designs of Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and others such as Solomon Telingater and Anton Lavinsky were a major inspiration for the work of radical designers in the West, particularly Jan Tschichold. Many Constructivists worked on the design of posters for everything from cinema to political propaganda.

El Lissitzky, Russian exhibition poster,1929

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In Cologne in the late 1920s Figurative Constructivism emerged from the Cologne Progressives, a group which had links with Russian Constructivists, particularly Lissitzky, since the early twenties. Through their collaboration with Otto Neurath and the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum such artists as Gerd Antz, Augustin Tschinkel and Peter Alma they affected the development of the Vienna Method.

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