Revolution of Form
Performing the Avant-Garde
Exposition Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris, 1925
Topics in Performing Culture: World’s Fairs Seminar. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
December 16th, 2002 Rachel Bowditch
“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles…The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”
- Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle. 1967
“In my Total Theatre…I have tried to create an instrument so flexible that a director can employ any one of the stage forms; drama, opera, film and dance; for choral or instrumental music; for sports events or assemblies. …An audience will shake off its inertia when it experiences the surprise effect of space transformed. Such a theatre would stimulate the conception and fantasy of playwright and stage director alike; for if it is true that the mind can transform the body, it is equally true that structure can transform the mind.” 1
The presence of the avant-garde at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris 1925 will be the focus of this World’s Fair investigation. Out of 15,000 exhibitors, three avant-garde exhibits stood out as being radically innovative and controversial; Le Corbusier’s L’Esprit Nouveau Pavilion, Prampolini’s Futurist exhibit and Melnikov’s Soviet Pavilion. Of the three exhibits, the Soviet presence at the exposition was the most fully realized in size, scope and ambition. I aim demonstrate how their exhibit was performative in that they demonstrated modernity and an avant-garde design for life in the twentieth century in an effective and cohesive way. The central focus of this investigation will revolve around the Russian Constructivist performance The Magnanimous Cuckold, directed by Meyerhold, as the quintessential example of Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, synthesizing form, function, concept, and national agenda into a work of “total-theatre”. This spectacle within the spectacle of the exposition will be examined through the historical context of 1925 to provide the frame work with which to understand the impact and significance of this seminal production. The Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs and Industriels, Paris 1925 was an intrinsically ephemeral event that performed lasting revolutionary ideas that helped to shape the history of modern art and architecture.
Combining Wagner’s notion of “gesamtkunstwerk” with the Bauhaus’ idea of “total theatre”, we see the Worlds’ Fairs from the 1851 Crystal Palace in London to the Paris Exposition of 1889, from the White City at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 to the Rainbow City at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, as large scale ephemeral performances where states, nations, industries and artists performed global spectacles to a national and international audience. In Wagner’s 1849 essay, The Art Work of the Future, he argued that opera served as a vehicle for “gesamtkunstwerk” or “total artwork” in the synthesis of music, theatre, and all the arts.2 This approach to opera foreshadowed the experience of virtual reality by immersing the audience in a three-dimensional experience of the stage. I want to argue that the World’s Fairs embody Wagner’s notion of “gesamkunstwerk” in that they are a synthesis of media, commerce, ideas, and propaganda that are highly choreographed performances where nations can rehearse, demonstrate and enact their national agendas in a performative way.
In the epic theatre of the World’s Fairs, nations could display their economic strength, commercial enterprises, natural resources, as well as highlight innovative aesthetic and architectural models for modern living. These Fairs were transient, ephemeral mega events with lasting concepts and ideas where nations could rehearse culture, nationality and their vision of the world of tomorrow. The grounds of the Fair became highly defined performance spaces with marked entrances and exits, with turnstiles, and admission separating the two worlds; that of everyday life from that of the Fair. The choreography of the fair was navigated by designated walk-ways, bridges, paths, and stairways that lead the visitors on a scenic, educational journey from pavilion to pavilion that was highly structured and pre-determined performance. Visitors received a sensational kaleidoscope of information, images, propaganda and products that caused a dizzying sense of vertigo and sensory overload.
Within this highly choreographed structure, Bernard Tschumi provides an insightful theoretical model that can be applied to the chance element that is possible at the World’s Fairs. He states that architecture is both a performance and an event that it is about space and about the events that take place in that space. The architecture becomes the mise-en-scene where vectors, voids, solids, envelopes and flow negotiate the delicate relationship between space, movement and action.3 The World’s Fairs are voids that carve into the solid of the surrounding urban space becoming the potential place of an event to take place. This void is a liminal in-between place, neither here nor there, that exists in a separate reality apart from ordinary life marked by boundaries whose finite space is wrought with infinite possibilities. 4 Tschumi sets up the possibility for unpredictable or unexpected events to occur within a pre-determined program. 5 This model can be applied to the presence of the three avant-garde exhibits at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris 1925, whose displays went against the grain becoming curved vectors that intersected the grid and challenged the aesthetic program. Their presence charged the grounds of exposition with a sensation of unpredictably and the unexpected.
The merging and blurring of avant-garde artists within the perimeter of the exposition leads us to consider the fair as a converging point, a strange attractor that magnetically drew the avant-garde that usually resides on the periphery of the action onto center stage and into the limelight. The exposition becomes a threshold where the possible dialog and exchange of ideas, theories and aesthetic ideals collide. I argue that the total theatre of the 1925 Paris Exposition was a historically unique catalyst that ignited revolutionary innovations that continue to resonate until this day. In a remarkably dark historical moment, the 1925 Paris Exposition was a burst of energy and life that influenced and forged a new modern aesthetic that has permeated art, architecture and style of the twentieth century.
The context and political climate surrounding the Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925 was a time of social reconstruction, revolution, the industrial age, new inventions of machines, technology and social transformation that took place in the highly charged political interwar years between the end of World War I in 1918 and the start of World War II in 1939. The Exposition was viewed as “an attempt to find some common ground and unity after the tragic and divisive World War One.” 6 and to bring the aesthetic values of the human race back under the hegemony of Paris. France sought to re-establish herself as the arbiter of taste and fashion in the post-world war era to relinquish her role as the leader of the avant-garde in painting, literature and music. 7 The exposition organizers aimed to bring about a new truly modern style.
The concept of progress and industrial growth was at the center life at the turn of the century. The 1925 Paris Exposition was a pivotal historical moment for art and architecture where a fusion of cutting-edge displays of decorative art, architecture, fashion, theatre, music, urban planning and the avant-garde occurred. In this difficult, volatile time, the exhibition intended to bring together nations of the world to develop a common aesthetic and rebuild a global spirit that was wounded after the war. Many nations chose not to participate. The United States, Canada, Mexico, all of South and Central America, were absent feeling that the effort and expense in the wake of a world war was too frivolous to imagine. 8 Germany was not invited, although Bauhaus ideas and architecture were present within the exposition, namely the Russian Pavilion and Le Corbusier‘s Pavilion de L‘Esprit Nouveau.
1925 was a year of blurring boundaries and historical cross-roads where major artistic avant-garde movements intersected. Cubism, Purism, Futurism, Suprematism, Russian Constructivism, Cubo-Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Bauhaus and Meyerhold’s Biomechanics all passed through the pivotal year of 1925. These movements evolved and over-lapped by exchanging and borrowing ideas and aesthetics. Looking back at history we have defined set periods or movements with designated dates, but I argue many of these boundaries were blurred and undefined at the Paris exposition of 1925. Cubism, founded by Picasso and Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914 9 was one of the foundational artistic movements that influenced many artists around 1925. Drawing inspiration from the geometry and bold patterns of African art and the two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, they radically fragmented objects so that several sides could be seen simultaneously. 10 Cubism explored the interplay of planes, conflict of patterns, lights and textures. In Marshall McLuhan’s essay, The Medium is the Message, he states that Cubism seizes an instant of total awareness that announces “the medium is the message.” 11 At the 1925 exposition, aesthetics were the medium through which nations could transmit ideas and messages in a three-dimensional way to the visiting public through art and architecture. This instant sensory awareness of Cubism takes us back to Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk and the Bauhaus notion of “total-theatre”. This blending of medium and message was most successfully synthesized in the Russian exhibit at the exposition.
Situated in the heart of Paris, the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes opened its doors April 25th, 1925 and closed them on October 25th, 1925 with the official attendance being 15,019,000. Commissioner Dior persuaded the city of Paris to donate three million francs and seventy two acres of land for the exposition. 12 Psychologically, it was important that France regain her cultural integrity and for her to re-establish commercial trade. Unlike previous Fairs, the 1925 exposition made no heavy intellectual or moral demands on the visitor. 13 The official theme of the fair was Art Deco, in the spirit of pre-war Art Nouveau. The Information handbook stated,
“Works admitted to the Exposition must show new inspiration and real originality. They must be executed and presented by artisans, artists and manufactures who have created models, and by editors whose works belong to modern decorative and industrial art. Reproductions, imitations and counterfeits of ancient styles will be strictly prohibited.” 14
Art Deco, a surface art emphasizing ornamentation could be seen in the roaring twenties spirit of advertising, panels, jewelry, poetry, tapestries, instruments, automobiles, and fashion. Interior designers presented models and sketches for the latest home modeling. Glass pianos, hand-painted cars, ornamental mirrors, vanity tables and the latest textile designs filled the halls and displays. The atmosphere exuded opulence and the high life. One could take a dinner and dancing trip on the Seine or stroll languidly down the esplanade surrounded by the glittering lights of Paris. Frank Scarlet, a visitor at the fair, recalls the “novelty and delight, whether entering from the Place de la Concorde, or the Avenue Alexander III, opening out to the Esplanade des Invalides, whether in the sunlit afternoon or the incandescent glow of the evening reflected in the Seine.” 15 A visitor entered the exposition via one of twelve monumental doorways; Porte D‘Orsay, Porte Constantine or Porte de la Concorde. They passed through a monumental threshold into the second magical reality of the exposition and on to the Esplanade des Invalides, the main drag equivalent to the mid-way, filled with entertainments and refreshments. The highlight of the Esplanade was Lalique’s Crystal Tower Fountain, that one participant called “the poetry of decorated crystal.” 15a
The Grand Palais was the largest pavilion situated on the Esplanade, which formed the official center for ceremonies and receptions. Thousands of daily visitors passed through these halls. The Russians and the Futurists held their exhibit here, which gave them tremendous exposure and accessibility to the heavy daily flow of traffic. Behind the Grand Palais was Rue de Prague, the French Regional street which housed various living situations from different provinces. At the end of this street, given the worst location of the exposition was Le Corbusier’s L’Esprit Nouveau Pavilion. The social drama revolving around Le Corbusier’s L’Eprit Nouveau Pavilion created the sensation and scandal that every avant-garde artist dreams of. A few days before the fair opened, the Director of the Exhibition erected a twenty-foot barrier to conceal the building. Just before opening, the Minister of Fine Arts intervened and the blockade was removed. Heated debates and controversy surrounded the structure and outraged the exposition authorities because the pavilion denied the decorative art theme of the fair. Le Corbusier argued that his goal was to design a model for practical modern living that was to accommodate a modern life-style, not to “become a back-drop for interior decorators.” Frank Scarlett, who visited the exposition remarked that the “clinical appearance of the interior designed by Le Corbusier was like the cold plunge after a Turkish Bath.” 16 The International Grand jury wanted to award Le Corbusier with the first prize for innovative architectural design but the French Academy, annoyed that the fence had been removed, vetoed the International juries vote. As a result, Le Corbusier got tremendous amounts of press and got “what every avant -garde artist desires which is success de scandale.” 17 He was given very little money and support from the French government to construct the pavilion but he stubbornly pursued the project meeting obstacles at every turn.
In Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin de Paris, he proposed utopian urban plans for the City of Tomorrow by razing four sections of Paris to erect a high-rise complex that could comfortably house three million inhabitants as well as offices, restaurants, theatres and recreational facilities. The project was to be faced with glass, gleaming like crystal, dissected by an airport landing strip. This utopian vision of Paris was not received warmly and was never realized. 18 L’Esprit Nouveau pavilion was one cell of his “ideal urban dwelling unit” displayed as a new kind of utopian collective environment that was part of a planning scheme for his modern city. 19 Standardization was his key consideration for modern living and he aspired to find a perfect harmony and equilibrium between work and play space by providing a balanced environment that would facilitate a modern lifestyle. Le Corbusier and Leger’s movement was called Purism in Paris (1918-1925) which focused on clean geometries and embraced new technologies, new materials and the machine aesthetic. 20 Purism, born out of Cubism was the driving aesthetic behind Le Corbusier’s L’Esprit Nouveau pavilion. He collaborated with Purist artists Jeanneret, Ozenfant, Leger and Juan Gris, who hung four large paintings inside the pavilion. 21 The pavilion was complimented by an exhibition of 65 Purist paintings in the Grand Palais. 22 Purism could also be seen in Marcel Herbier’s film, L’Inhumane, which premiered at the exposition with sets designed by Leger and Mallet Stevens.
The Futurists did not have the luxury of their own pavilion. They did not present their work in the Italian national pavilion, which went against the Art Deco concept of the fair with its outdated classicism of marble columns and gilded brickwork. Mussolini’s gigantic features in bronze dominated the interior of the pavilion, decreeing that Italian Fascism was alive and well. While the Futurists ideologically embraced Fascist sensibility, they rejected the conservative ideals of their national pavilion and thus were left with three small rooms in the Grand Palais. Futurism was also greatly influenced by Cubism, but there was a distinct difference, they conveyed movement. Their driving ideology was linked to fascism, a high-speed, modern, efficient state and the love of war. Futurists Marinetti, Prampolini, Depero and Balla were present at the 1925 exposition in their multi-colored geometric vests designed by Depero to spread the Futurist manifesto and their ideals of speed and dynamism. Their work was characterized by geometric shapes, bold colors, and mechanistic forms that expressed Futurism’s celebration of technology.
On the walls of their exhibit in the Grand Palais were the bold, colorful, angular paintings by Balla, Azarri and Depero. Fortunato Depero won two gold medals, one silver and one bronze for artistic excellence and innovation. 23 The most sensational Futurist display was a model for the Magnetic Theatre by Futurist set designer, Prampolini. The major emphasis was on scenery that moved. Ultimately, the goal was to achieve a performance without actors, where the movement of the scenic elements became the performance. Prampolini’s Magnetic Theatre was never realized in performance, although his model won the Grand Prize for theatrical design. This idea was fully realized in the The Magnanimous Cuckold, the Russian theatrical performance directed by Meyerhold, whose sets designed by Popova continuously moved and transformed.
Of the three avant-garde exhibits at the 1925 exposition, the Soviet National Pavilion was the most fully realized in concept, construction and impact. Their participation had far-reaching consequences that placed the Soviets on the frontier of avant-garde ideas in art and architecture. Their success transformed their national identity from a backward agricultural country into a modern industrial state in the eyes of other nations. 24 Promoting nationalism and a revolutionary spirit were the central concerns of the Russians present at the 1925 exposition. This was a golden opportunity for Russia to redesign and restage itself after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in front of a global audience. They had the opportunity to demonstrate how the Communist agenda was a functional and practical way of life, as well as display the latest developments and trends in Russian art, particularly concerning new design methods within applied art. 25 The major players of their national spectacle visible through their artistic contributions were Melnikov, Rodchenko, Meyerhold, Stephanova and Popova.
Russian artists were intrigued with the relationship between science, technology and art, that bridged huge distances by means of telegraphs, radio and air travel. 26 Following the Revolution of 1917, artists began to regard easel painting as an essentially bourgeois and elitist activity which had to be replaced by construction in real space. Constructivists proclaimed death to art. Alexei Gan, one of the main theorists of Constructivism, proclaimed. “Art is finished!! It has no place in the working apparatus. Labor, technology, and organization- that is today’s ideology.” “We declare uncompromising war on art!” 27 They were interested in how art directly functioned with the everyday environment. In 1901, Marinetti first published the Futurist manifesto in Russia, which influenced Constructivist artists Melnikov, Rodchenko, Popova and Meyerhold. Here is an example of how boundaries and borders begin to blur, as movements and aesthetic concepts start to dissolve and blend into each other. In 1914, Russian avant-garde artist, Malevich began to work in a completely abstract style using geometric forms, which he called Suprematism, and a group of like minded artist formed around him; Alexander Rodchenko, Rozanova, and Nadezhda Udaltsova. In 1916, Popova became a member of this group which prepared her for the next phase of the Russian avant-garde, Constructivism. 28 Constructivism, closely related to Suprematism was the dominant aesthetic of the Russian exhibit at the 1925 exposition.
Constructivists believed in the intimate relationship between the artist and the machine, the economy of space, the logic of everyday life, and the use of readily available industrial materials such as concrete, glass and metal. 29 Just as Cubism had once looked for construction in the human figure and the object, Constructivism subjected abstract forms to reductive analysis by revealing their constructive foundations as geometric, plastic units. 30 Their agenda meshed with the aesthetic of 1925 Parisian program in that they demonstrated real originality and innovation. Their work embraced Wagner’s notion of gesamtzunstwerk by synthesizing all their arts, including architecture into a cohesive aesthetic unit. 31 Artists, painters, sculptors, architects and designers sought to break with all traditions by blending geometric and dynamic forms that evoked the revolutionary spirit of the time. Art became a means of propaganda. Simple stands for selling things, diagrams and posters, even the graphic design of food stamps became instruments for political influence using their medium to transmit their message. 32 Constructivism was predominantly concerned with the function of architecture as a social catalyst, with what Soviet terminology described as “social construction.” 33
The Russian National pavilion designed by Konstantin Melnikov successfully demonstrated Constructivist ideas in its clean geometry of planes and surfaces using glass, concrete and metal with a minimal budget of 15,000 rubles. The pavilion was a utilitarian space with no frills. A visitor could enter via two stairways that dramatically divided the structure into two acute triangles. Before the final design was realized, Melnikov went through a series of preliminary stages. At first, he investigated the sphere to represent the universal ideals of Communism. His next version abandoned the sphere, replacing it with a triangular form. From there, he experimented with the sickle and hammer. These preliminary sketches were displayed in the Russian section of the Grand Palais. 34 In 1925, Ilia Ehrenberg praised the glass pavilion with its scaffold-like construction in the Ekran periodical: “This is an industrial dream…it possesses the clearness of fair weather while being a simple window display case.” 35
Inside the pavilion was the Socialist Workers Club designed by Constructivist, Rodchenko. The club showed a vision of the urban future for Russia; hard, geometric chairs without cushions facing a common table designed to hold magazines and pamphlets. Rodchenko conceived the club as a multi-functional space that displayed a moveable stage, which included a projection screen and a poster wall that could be pulled out. The podium could similarly be used to exhibit diverse objects, as well as become a platform for public speakers or lecturers. 36 Also displayed in the Club was peasant art of textiles and pottery. Rodchenko’s Worker’s Club demonstrated the courageous, imaginative and experimental spirit of the future by displaying the ideals of Communism. 37 On June 4th when the Soviet exhibit opened, Rodchenko won silver medals in each of the four categories he entered; book design, outdoor advertising, theatre design and furniture design. 38
As well as their national pavilion, the Russians had six rooms in the Grand Palais, which placed the Russian exhibit at the center of gravity in the prime position of the exposition that received the maximum flow of visitor traffic. The rooms contained a model village, a reading room and a theatre, as well as exhibits of crafts, works created at VKhUTEMAS, graphic design, poster art, advertising, architecture, and seven theatrical productions. 39 The seven Russian theatrical productions presented at the Grand Palais were; Wagner’s Lohengrin directed by Fedorovski, Marie’s Announcement, Phedre and St. Jeanne directed by Tairoff, and Les Aubes, The Magnanimous Cuckold and The Death of Tarielkine directed by Meyerhold .40
The 1925 exposition was the first substantial appearance of the VKhUTEMAS designs in the West and they were awarded several medals for their innovative ideas. The VKhUTEMAS was an art academy in Moscow that was similar in structure to the Bauhaus, with an experimental curriculum that was constantly changing under the impact of practical experience and theoretical developments. In the VKhUTEMAS room in the Grand Palais were displays of various drawings, models, explanatory posters of the teaching programs, twenty exercises with color combinations, nine exercises concerning volume, mass and dynamism and designs by students and staff. 41 The Architecture Faculty sent forty-one student drawings and models, as well as designs for film studios, hostels, theatres, a museum of the revolution, fire stations, chemical plants and other projects. Theatrical models and costume designs by Aleksandr Vesnin, Lyubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova’s were also on display. 42 The aim of the work was to design projects inspired by a utilitarian Constructivism that could be adapted to the real needs of the Russian market. The display of work and ideas was reinforced by the presence of Rodchenko and several students who traveled to Paris in connection with the exhibition. The presence of the VKhUTEMAS was a rehearsal for Russia’s future aesthetic. They viewed the exhibition as an occasion to demonstrate their national pedagogical methods and achievements to the world. 43 Their appearance at the 1925 exposition was the high point of success for VKhUTEMAS. 44
Amidst the male dominated avant-garde exhibits stood the work of three strong female Russian Constructivist artists who made a significant impact at the 1925 exposition. Their presence left a mark etched into the history of avant-garde art, architecture and performance. Lyubov Popova, Varvara Stepanova, (Rodchenko’s partner in art and life) and Marie Babanova’s artistic contributions could be seen at the Grand Palais in Meyerhold’s productions of The Death of Tarielkine and Fernand Crommelynck’s The Magnanimous Cuckold, a farce about obsessive jealousy. Crommelynck’s The Magnanimous Cuckold was the most complete demonstration of gesamtkunstwerk at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels and the best example of how Russian Constructivist ideals that could be physically manifested through theory and practice. I. B. Arbatov, one of the theoreticians of Constructivism said, “art will have before itself the opportunity to experiment with the material elements of theatre (dynamics of light, color, line, volume in general and in particular that of the human body. Theatre gave Constructivism its first opportunity to manifest itself in large forms and to come out into society with brilliance. The young Republic was too poor to erect Constructivist towers, skyscrapers, glass palaces, clubs in the shape of screws, etc- the days of new structures had not yet arrived. But in the theatre the ideas of Constructivists were realized with the aid of ordinary boards and common nails. Furthermore, the absence of real cement, concrete, iron and glass, and the very poverty of this Republic, which was racing forward into the future, stimulated with unusual energy in the appearance of Constructivist stage machinery. Stage Constructivism was a sort of realization of the artists‘dream of the future, of a technology which would bring the country from poverty into the mechanized, electrified, finely organized kingdom of socialism.” 45
When Meyerhold was appointed the director of the State of Higher Theatre Workshops in Moscow in January of 1921, he had plans to open a theatrical training school to give actors methodical practical instruction in speech and movement based on the general physical laws of technology, physics, mechanics, music and architecture. Amongst his first students were the future directors of film; Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Yutkevich, and Nikolai Ekk, together with many others who were to become leading actors and directors in the Soviet theatre and cinema. 46 On June 12th, 1922, The Magnanimous Cuckold was the first public demonstration of his biomechanics exercises or “etudes” forced the artist to become both an artist and an engineer. Art should be based on scientific principles and the entire creative act should be a conscious process. The art of the actor consists in organizing his material; that is, in his capacity to utilize correctly his body’s means of expression.” 47
The Magnanimous Cuckold performed the fundamental relationship between theoretical and practical work central to the Constructivist methodology as well as showcase the efficacy of Meyerhold’s new system of Biomechanics. 48 Sharply contrasting the Stanislavsky system of actor training at the Moscow Art Theatre, biomechanics was a program of actor training intended to teach all of the basic skills necessary to move properly on the stage. Biomechanics strived to create the “all-around” actor who was capable of anything on stage based on a scientific understanding of the human body, favoring movement over emotion. 49 Meyerhold insisted the actor understand the mechanics of the body in order to become like a well tuned musical instrument that understands rhythm and tempo. 50 This self-awareness, self-control and self-confidence in performance allowed the actor to discover their center of gravity, equilibrium, stability, coordination of bodily movements, spatial awareness and gestures. 51 His technical pedagogy prepared the actor of the “new theatre” for any genre of performance.
Popova’s collaboration with Meyerhold but theory into practice. These mechanical investigations of the body were mirrored in her Constructivist set design for the Magnanimous Cuckold. Meyerhold saw the possibility of a utilitarian, multi-purpose scaffolding which could easily be dismantled and erected in any surroundings. Popova’s machine-like structure consisted of the “frames of conventional theatre flats and platforms joined by steps, chutes and catwalks, two wheels, a large disc bearing the letters “CR-ML-NCK” and vestigial windmill sails, which all revolved at varying speeds as a kinetic accompaniment to the fluctuating passions of the characters. Blank panels hinged to the framework represented doors and windows.” 52
Popova’s painterly trends towards Cubo-Futurism were inspired by her first visit to Paris in 1912, where she joined the Academie La Palette where she was instructed by the Cubist painters Le Fauconnier and Metzinger. Returning to Moscow in 1913, her painterly approach had undergone a transformation. 53 She integrated surfaces pulsating with color that seemed to move around internal spatial axes and fixed them fast in a tight restricted space, with a sense of construction and formal interrelationship within the frame of the picture. 54 Her work negotiates the polarity between surface and depth, straight lines and arabesques, and the dynamism of the diagonals. 55 Popova’s set for The Magnanimous Cuckold was like a jungle gym for the performers and proved to be an ideal platform for the display of biomechanical agility. Her machine was like a trampoline which was compared to the “apparatus of the circus acrobat.” 56 When the performers first stepped onto Popova’s machine, they found themselves on an unfamiliar barren stage, without the usual props and artifices to disguise them. In this clinically bare void, each movement and gesture was magnified and took on tremendous importance. The performer was obligated to become an athlete of the stage in complete control of every gesture and breathe. He was obligated to move with the lightness of a dancer and the grace of an acrobat. 57
This marked a revolutionary moment in the history of theatre and performance. The scenic painter was replaced by the engineer and builder. Costume designers were replaced by actors in standard blue overalls with no makeup. By stripping the stage of all its illusions and accessories, the true skill and talent of the performer was illuminated. 58 The brickwork of the exposed back wall and the absence of wings revealed the skeleton and inner workings of the stage. The moveable set transformed from a windmill, into a bedroom, into a balcony, into a chute for sacks flour and into a fully operating grinding mechanism of a factory. The actor physically engaged with the set by revolving the doors, revolving wheels and the other simple parts of the machine. 59
Performers moved with ease up the steep steps of the scaffold, rolling down slide-boards and swinging from platform to platform with dexterity and grace. Popova called her work “theatrical Constructivism.” 60
Crommelynck’s 1920 tragic-farce tells of Bruno, a village scribe who is madly in love with his beautiful wife, Stella. He is convinced that every man in the village wants her and that she secretly has a lover. Deranged with jealousy, he forces her to share her bed with every man in town, hoping to unveil her lover. Frustrated, Stella eventually runs away with the Cow Herder on the condition that he will accept her fidelity to him. 61 Stella, played by actress Maria Babanova, performed the wonders of biomechanics put into action by not only demonstrating the pedagogical theorem but introduced a human aspect that moved audiences in both Moscow and Paris. She became the shining example of the efficacy of Meyerhold’s training. In 1925 the actress, Vera Yureneva described the impact of Babanova’s performance:
“A factory whistle is the signal for the spotlight to come on and the performance to begin. Up the side steps, with assured and agile strides, wearing tall, lace-up boots, a slender factory-girl bounds onstage. Not a shadow of nerves or awkwardness at her first entrance. A short, rough blue overall; a round, wicked little face; a simple tied mop of flaxen hair, and eyes like two petrified violets, thus the new actress makes her appearance on the stage. Her feet were trained to glide with confidence and ease up the dizzying cascades of steps, ramps, bridges and slopes. Today no one knows her name, but tomorrow she will already be hailed as the first of a new galaxy of young actresses. Actresses magically born and reared amidst an arid expanse of wooden constructions, under the piercing gaze of a spotlight on a bare stage- stripped of curtains, wings, and all the mysteries of the old theatre.” 62
Opposite Babanova, the actor Ilinsky who played Bruno, mastered Popova’s machine like an acrobat on the parallel bars, swinging from platform to platform, sliding down chutes and flying as if weightless up and down steps. Meyerhold’s biomechanical actors become dynamic bodies on shifting architecture that could perform dangerous and daring virtuosic maneuvers on unstable ground. They were constantly searching for equilibrium and stability in an ever-shifting environment. This imbalance created an exciting mise-en-scene and invigorating spectacle that synthesized theatre and architecture. This collaboration between the performer and scenic architecture engaged in a dynamic dialog that investigated the relationship between man and machine. The theatre became a rehearsal for real life by enacting a utopian dynamic between technology, the machine, architecture and modernity.
Popova and Meyerhold’s collaboration was a huge success both in Russia and at the Grand Palais. This success earned her the title, “Mother of Russian Scenic Constructivism” 63 Popova was not physically present when The Magnanimous Cuckold opened at the 1925 Paris exposition because of her sudden tragic death from Scarlet Fever on the 25th of May, 1924 in Moscow. Meyerhold gives Popova her due respect and claims that the tone of the performance was completely inspired by her Constructivist set. 64 Their collaboration illustrates how the body becomes architectural and spatial and the static set becomes animated and theatrical. After the success of the Magnanimous Cuckold, biomechanics became accepted as a thoroughly viable system of theatrical training and was largely responsible for the introduction of systematized physical training into the curriculum of every Soviet drama school. 65 Biomechanics echo similar experimentation happening at the Bauhaus. Bauhaus artist, Oskar Schlemmer claimed that the performer on stage “is Man as Dancer (Tanzermensch). He obeys the law of the body as well as laws of space; he follows his sense of himself as well as his sense of embracing space, as the one who gives birth to an almost endless range of expression.” 66
I conclude by arguing that the Russian presence at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris 1925 performed a “total-spectacle” that synthesized their values, concepts, ideas, pedagogical methods and artistic approaches into a three-dimensional experiential performance. The exterior architecture of Melnikov’s pavilion contrasted with the interior of Popova’s theatrical set established a dynamic visual dialog that staged the Russian national aesthetic and identity in a performative way. The Communist agenda was illustrated in the minimalist construction that reduced art and architecture to its essential form and function that carried a revolutionary message. These provocative spaces challenged the exposition visitor with an avant-garde design for a Communist life-style. The Russians had the last word at the October closing ceremonies of the exhibition. A witness remarked,
“Russia’s flag stood with all the rest. Slowly, solemnly, the flags were lowered together, signifying the official end of the exposition. But as the banners lowered, one remained, triumphantly waving above the rest. The Russians had refused to lower their flag. “ We alone carry on the revolutionary spirit, asserts this gesture. The hammer and sickle remained aloft as the crowds drifted away into the streets of Paris. Only much later, after the exposition officially closed its door, did the Russians lower their flag in triumph.” 67
1. Oscar Schlemmer. Theatre of the Bauhaus. p.12
2. Description of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, (www.art museum.net/w2vr/timeline/Wagner.html)
3. Bernard Tsuchumi . Event-Cities-2. P.13
Tschumi distinguishes “program” from an “event”. Revealing hidden potentialities or contradictions in a program, and relating them to a spatial configuration, may create conditions for unexpected events to occur. For example, one may combine or assemble programmed activities so that they charge a spatial configuration in such a way that by mixing otherwise common or predictable programmatic items, they generate uncommon or unpredictable events. ( p. 12-13 Bernard Tschumi)
4.James Carse. Finite and Infinite Games.
5. Bernard Tschumi. Event-Cities-2. P.13.
6.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. Post War Paris. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 5
7. Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. The New Spirit. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 7
8.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. Plans for the Exposition. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 3
9.Definition of Cubism.www.sachiyoasakawa.tripod.com
10. Definition of Cubism.www.sachiyoasakawa.tripod.com
11.Marshall McLuhan. The Medium Is the Message, Understanding Media. P.13.
12.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. The Aftermath. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. Appendix
13.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. Plans for the Exposition. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 1.
14.E.Weber. Art Deco. P.1.
15.Frank Scarlett. A Personal Recollection. P.5.
15a.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. The New Spirit. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 3
16.Frank Scarlett. A Personal Recollection. P.63
17.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. Plans for the Exposition. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 2.
18.Frank Scarlett. A Personal Recollection. P. 64.
19.Kenneth Frampton. Le Corbusier. p. 47
20.LACMA, Los Angeles. Exhibition Catalog L’Esprit Nouveau: Purism in Paris, 1918-1925. LACMA Publication, 2001. P.1.
21. Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 11
22.Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. The Arts of Living. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 5
23.L’Italia Alla Esponzione Internazionale di Arti Decorative e Industraliali Moderns Parigi, 1925. Pavilion Catalog, 1925. Italy: Commissariato Generale, 1925.
24.Alexander Laurentiev.Russian design p. 27
25. Alexander Laurentiev. Russian design. P. 20
26. Alexander Laurentiev. Russian design p.12.
27.Yablonskaya, M.N. Women artists in Russia, p.104/ Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director, p.292
28.Yablonskaya, M.N. Women artists in Russia. P. 102
29. Catherine Cooke. Russian avant garde,p 17.
30. John Matthew Drutt. Amazons of the Avant -Garde p. 194.
31.Alexander Laurentiev. Russian design p.16.
32.Catherine Cooke. Russian Avant-Garde p. 24
33.Catherine Cooke. Russian Avant- Garde p. 24.
34. Fredrick Starr. Melnikov p.87
35. Alexander Laurentiev. Russian design p. 21
36.. Alexander Laurentiev. Russian design p.21
37. Catherine Cooke. Russian Avant Garde p.32
38.Dabrowski, Magdalena. Alexandr Rodchenko book. P.306
39.Dabrowski, Magdalena. Alexandr Rodchenko book. P.306
40.Encyclopedie des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes au Xxeme siecle; Twelve Volumes Documenting the Paris Exhibition of 1925. New York: Garland, 1977. Volume # 10.
41.Catherine Cooke. Avant-Garde Frontier P.208
42.Catherine Cooke. Avant Garde Frontier p. 209
43.Catherine Cooke. Avant Garde Frontier p.210
44.Catherine Cooke. Avant Garde Frontier p. 211
45.Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p. 292
46.Edward Braun. The Theatre of Meyerhold p.163
47.Edward Braun. Theatre of Meyerhold p.165
48.Catherine Cooke. Russian Avant- Garde p.16
49. Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p.295
50. Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p. 295
51. Edward Braun. Revolution in Theatre p.176
52. Edward Braun. Meyerhold on theatre p.184
53.Yablonskaya, M.N. Women Artists of Russia. P.101
54. Yablonskaya, M.N. Women Artists in Russia p.103
55.Yablonskaya, M.N. Women Artists in Russia p.101
56. Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p.290
57.Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p.293
58.Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p.291
59.Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold the director p.308
60.Konstantin, Rudnitsky. Meyerhold on theatre p. 184
61. Edward Braun. Revolution in Theatre p.180
62.Edward Braun. Revolution in theatre p.182
63.Yablonskaya, M.N. Women Artists in Russia p.114
64.Edward Braun Revolution in Theatre p. 180
65. Edward Braun. Meyerhold on Theatre p.183
66.Walter Gropius. Theatre of the Bauhaus. P. 25
67.. Chandler, Arthur. The Art Deco Exposition. World’s Fair Magazine, Volume VIII. Number 3. Copyright, 1988, World’s Fair, Inc. P. 15
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Art: The Drawings Of Carlo Carra; By GRACE GLUEEK; New York Times ( 1857- Current File) New York Times. New York, NY Oct 28, 1983; pg. C25, 1pgs
DANCE VIEW; Avant-Garde in Russia, 1913. ANNA KISSELGOFF; New York Times (1857-Current File) New York, NY. Feb 8, 1981; pg. D8, 2pgs.
Futurist Photos, Rich in Ideas; By PHYLLIS BRAFF; New York Times ( 1857-Current File), New York, NY; Feb 19, 1984; pg. L124, 1 pg
Russia’s Cubo-Futurists Created a Startling ‘Opera’; Futurist Opera; by HARLOW ROBINSION; New York Times ( 1857 - Current File), New York, NY; Nov 20, 1983; pg
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Russia’s Lost Revolution In Modern Art by HILTON KRAMER; New York Times ( 1857-Current File) New York, NY; Oct 11, 1981; pg. SM11, 8pgs
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