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Friday, November 20, 2015

Vladimir Tatlin

Now known as the Tatlin Tower, there appears to have been two somewhat different
versions, a vertical double helix (left) and a leaning single helix, (right).
How many of you have planned some impressive work of art designed to make an impact on your otherwise lackluster career as an artist, only to just never get around to actually creating it? I know I have...several times. I've even completed one or two such projects, not that either have had a resounding impact upon my reputation as an artist. Around 1910, the Soviet Union planned a grandiose centerpiece for it's upcoming Third International Congress of the Communist Party the following year. It was to be built from iron, glass, and steel. In its materials, shape and function, the construction was seen as a towering symbol of Soviet modernity, soaring some 1,312 feet high, and dwarfing the Eiffel Tower by a third. It was to serve as party headquarters, a convention center, and information (propaganda) center, topped off by a broadcasting mast. In design (above), it was a spiraling, cylindrical affair. The various geometrically shaped parts inside its helix would spin around, occasionally meeting to connect the branches of government that were to be housed there. It was intended for Petrograd (St. Petersburg), then the capital city of Russia. Of course, given the cash poor state of Soviet Union just three years after the Bolshevik Revolution, there was no way in hell the damned thing was ever going to get built. This must have greatly disappointed its brash, young, designer/engineer/architect/artist, Vladimir Tatlin.
Vladimir Tatlin was obviously influence by Cubism (as seen in his self-portraits), but   
his main love was a movement called "Constructivism," a term he nonetheless rejected.
There appears to have been two different design proposals. The earliest was probably the vertical double-helix tower (top left) followed by the more radical single-helix, leaning tower, (top, right). I'm not positive, but my guess is the single-helix design constituted the original proposal while the double-helix evolved as a design refinement after it became obvious the tower would never be built. Housed within the tower were three geometric structures, a cube, intended to make a complete revolution once a year; a pyramid, its speed set to revolve once a month; topped with a cylinder that would complete one revolution per day (the Russians were big on revolutions at the time). Quite apart from its astronomical cost, it's doubtful how practical the whole concept would have been.
Artist's Model, 1910, Vladimir Tatlin
Vladimir Tatlin was born in 1885. His father was a railway engineer in Kharkiv (eastern) Ukraine. His mother was a poet. Tatlin began as an icon painter in Moscow, where he attended the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He was also a professional musician, playing the Ukrainian-bandurist (a plucked string instrument). Tatlin's earliest painted work dates from about 1910, his Artist's Model (above). The Fish Monger (below) dates from the following year. Both are Expressionist, though the latter has a distinctly Cubist quality at a time when Picasso and Braque, in Paris, were still working out the finer points of the style.

The Fish Monger, 1911, Vladimir Tatlin
To make ends meet, while waiting for his "big break" which turned out not to be all that big, Tatlin worked designing sets and costumes for the Russian theater as seen in his monumental designs for Glinka's Ivan Susanin (below), from 1912-14 and his costume design, for A Life for the Tsar (Ivan Susanin, right), from 1913. During the years prior to the Revolution, Tatlin was also regarded as a progenitor of Con-structivist art with his counter-reliefs and three-dimensional constructions made of wood and metal. Though he did not regard himself as a Con-structivist, and objected to many of the movement's basic tenets, Tatlin conceived these sculp-tures as a means of questioning the traditional ideals of art. Later prominent constructivists included Varvara Stepanova, Alexander Rodchenko, Manuel Rendón Seminario, Joaquín Torres García, László Moholy-Nagy, Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo.

Sketch for stage set, Glinka's Ivan Susanin, 1912-14, Vladimir Tatlin
After the disappointment in not seeing his spiraling tower rise from the broad plazas of St. Petersburg, Tatlin returned to painting, finding much to admire in the Constructivist tendencies involved with Cubism as seen in his Constructivist, Obra (below), from 1920.

Cubist Constructivism, Obra, 1920, Vladimir Tatlin.
During the 1930s, Tatlin began to turn his design and engineering skills toward manned flight (despite the fact that he was largely retreading over disappointing science and aeronautical engineering from some thirty years earlier). His model making skills, demonstrated in his conception and design of the Tatlin Tower, stood him in good stead as he tried getting back to the basics of human-powered flight (below). Unfortunately, neither his humans, their muscles, nor his designs were up to the task. After the war, Tatlin returned to painting, this time in a more realistic form of Expressionism as seen in his alarmingly raw Meat (below) from 1947. Vladimir Tatlin died in 1953 at the age of sixty-eight, having never seen his tower rise higher than a couple dozen feet in the form of two models, one in London, the other at the Pompidou Center in Paris. Tatlin's influence has, nonetheless, made itself felt as the result of lasting designs of his Modern Art furniture (bottom). His Tatlin Chair is at bottom, right, while the red sofa (bottom, left) is a 1989, Tatlin-inspired, piece by the Italian designers, Canarizi and Semprini, manufactured by the furniture company, Edra. It would appear to be an ingenious way to torment overnight guests. "Sure, you're welcome to sleep on the sofa". The original model of that sofa just sold for over five-thousand dollars.

Letatlin, 1932, Vladimir Tatlin
Meat, 1947, Vladimir Tatlin


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