Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art

Ralph Balson, Constructive Painting 1963 - photo by John BrashIn the centenary year of the Russian revolution, Heide Museum of Modern Art presents the first exhibition to examine the influence of the modernist art movement Constructivism on Australian art in Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art.

This extensive survey featuring over 200 works across three galleries explores how Australian visual artists have responded to this ground breaking modernist movement, and reveals its enduring call upon their imaginations from the 1930s to the present day.

A remarkable artistic experiment arising out of the social and political ferment of the Russian Revolution of 1917 Constructivism challenged the idea of the work of art as a unique commodity, explored more collective ways of working, and sought to integrate art into everyday life.

Its newly invented language of abstract forms was first seen as early as 1913 in the works of Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and Varvara Stepanova among others, and in the paintings of Kazimir Malevich who founded the distinct but closely related movement of Suprematism. The influence of these movements spread to Europe and Britain becoming more broadly known as International Constructivism, and even further afield to Australia, generating local variations in each place.

“We have a fascinating story to tell across generations of Australian artists, who still find the innovative and optimistic period of Russian Constructivism incredibly inspiring,” said curator Sue Cramer.

Starting from the early influence of British constructivism on Australian painters and sculptors of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the exhibition traces a growing awareness of Russian Constructivism among artists of later generations through to contemporary times.

In keeping with the Constructivist impetus towards an integration of ideas across all the art forms, the exhibition will include painting and sculpture, video and photography, the graphic arts as well as theatre and costume design by visual artists.

Works by Australian artists Ralph Balson, Frank Hinder, Inge King, Gunter Christmann, George Johnson, Robert Owen, Rose Nolan, Justene Williams and Zoë Croggon, among many others will be shown alongside those by key proponents of the original movement, such as Russian artists Rodchenko, Malevich, El Lissitzky and Alexandra Exter from Russia, and British artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.

Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art is the third in a series that surveys Australia’s contribution to key modernist art movements with previous exhibitions Cubism and Australian Art (2009–10) and Less is More: Minimal and Post Minimal Art in Australia (2012).

Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art
Heide Museum of Modern Art
Exhibition continues to 15 October 2017
Free admission after museum entry

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Image: Ralph Balson, Constructive Painting, 1963. oil on composition board 90.2 x 136.6 cm. TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection, Victoria. Gift of Eva Besen and Marc Besen AO 2001 © Estate of Ralph Balson