The VKhUTEMAS had eight art and production departments: Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Graphics, Textiles, Ceramics, Woodworking, and Metalworking. The course of study took approximately five years; a mandatory one- or two-year preliminary course was followed by two to three years of training in the area of a student’s specialization, capped by a semester-long diploma project. The preliminary course was taught at the Core Division (“Osnovnoe otdelenie”), the center of the school’s innovative pedagogy established by Aleksandr Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, Nadezhda Udaltsova, Ivan Kliun, Baranov-Rossiné, and other professors. Their so-called “objective method,” based on the study of disciplines, helped the students to develop their comprehension of the fundamental principles of different forms of art.
The set of disciplines varied over the years. Six out of eight initial disciplines focused on color: “Maximal articulation of color” (Lyubov Popova and Aleksandr Vesnin), “Articulation of form with color” (Aleksandr Osmerkin), “Color in space” (Alexandra Exter), “Color on the plane” (Ivan Kliun), “Simultaneity of form and color” (Aleksandr Drevin), and “Dispersion of form with color” (Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné). Later, Popova and Vesnin established a system based on four disciplines: Color, Graphics, Space, and Volume. The Core Division soon gained international recognition. Its programs, as well as student works from the Architecture Department, received an honorary diploma at the World Exhibition of Industrial Art in Paris in 1925.
Photographs AC 2021.78 and AC 2021.86 were taken at an exhibition of works by students from the Core Division in 1929, after the VKhUTEMAS took on its new name, VKhUTEIN (“Vysshii gosudarstvennyi khudozhestvenno-tekhnicheskii institut”, or Higher State Artistic and Technical Institute). By renaming the studios, the administration more firmly positioned the school as an academic institution. The program of the Core Division was strengthened with such disciplines as physics, chemistry, higher mathematics, theoretical mechanics, descriptive geometry, perspective, art history, and socio-political disciplines. The new Color Theory course drew on cutting-edge science and employed color wheels and other charts visible in AC 2021.78. “Colour Science” (1923, Russian translation published in 1926), a work by the German chemist and physicist Wilhelm Ostwald, served as a guidebook, while classes were conducted by the physicist Nikolai Fedorov, the psychophysiologist Sergei Kravkov, and the artist Gustav Klutsis.
By the late 1920s, however, most avant-garde artists had left the VKhUTEMAS, and figurative painting largely supplanted abstract modes in the curriculum. This tendency can be traced in the photographs of the 1929 exhibition, where innovative exercises on volume and space coexist with more traditional portraits and still lifes. The government’s campaign against avant-garde art was already in motion: any artist focused on the problems of artistic form was considered a “formalist,” became subject for ostracism, and even risked persecution. Rather than a variety of forms and styles, the arts trended toward Socialist realism, while architecture was dominated by Neoclassicism. The existence of a school as avant-garde as VKhUTEIN was no longer possible, and in 1930 it closed completely. Its departments managed to survive: some became part of new institutions, and others joined the existing ones. However, the school’s pedagogical innovations fell into oblivion and remained obscure until the 1960s, when several former professors and teaching assistants managed to partially revive them.
Maria Timina, 2023
photographs; art; painting; sculpture; pedestals; walls
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