Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art


Not since 1941 has there been an Australian exhibition wholly dedicated to constructivist art. Since that exhibition in Sydney, Australian constructivism has been only sporadically displayed. Heide Museum’s Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art, is Melbourne’s first ever exhibition dedicated to constructivism, surveying a hundred years of its convergence with Australian art.

Australian constructivism, since its birth in the 1930s, built upon the legacy of both British and Russian constructivists, “by emphasising the material, spatial and technical aspects of art making, and by furthering the abstract language of geometric forms,” explains curator Sue Cramer.

The British stream of the movement was the initial influence for Australian constructivists, who produced what the curators describe as “organic forms and lines,” a “sense of movement” and “luminous colour.”

However, the Russian constructivists’ aim to put ‘art into production,’ soon became a key inspiration. Albeit emerging from the totally different political landscape of the Bolshevik Revolution, they appealed to the Australian group as “an unfinished project, full of potentialities,” says Lesley Harding who co-curated the exhibition with Cramer. Australian constructivists took a more individual approach, while still exploring “art’s relationship to function and design.”

The exhibition looks at “how art might function in the world and interact with the everyday,” continues Cramer, incorporating everything from eating utensils and clothing to more elaborate expressions of constructivism such as Justene Williams’ reinterpretation of Kasimir Malevich’s costume design for his 1913 Opera. Works by constructivist precursor Malevich, and leading Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko, are included.

From performative interpretations to video, photographs and installations, the exhibition examines how our Australian constructivists are situated within this composite and multi-disciplinary movement, and how their practice highlights constructivism’s immense potential to respond to the world we live in.

Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art
Heide Museum of Modern Art
5 July – 8 October

Preview Words by Ariele Hoffman