tatlin, counter relief, 1917

Tatlin’s initial interest in Constructivism and the use of functional materials to create art began when Moscow began presenting corner icons in art exhibitions in 1913 that won the attention and enthusiasm of Russian art critics.[1] Tatlin noticed that these icons seemed to project from the corner rather than staying in a 2D space.  Tatlin’s fascination with natural materials such wood, wire, and metals further inspired Tatlin to take a more constructivist attitude toward art and to create 3D art pieces that didn’t require frames or spatial boundaries.

Tatlin’s Counter-Relief was made with plaster, iron, and glass.  Tatlin used these materials to create contrast and “… strike the basic chord.  The opaque, dull-surfaced piece of sheet iron cut in a triangular shape, and the transparent piece of glass cut into a concave shape.[2]”  Tatlin used these “real” materials because he believed that art could be practical and utilitarian, therefore he used utilitarian objects to create his reliefs.  Tatlin was intrigued about the flexibility and durability of these materials, and created Counter-Relief to see what different shapes and angles he could create out of the seemingly unbendable materials.

The liberation of art from frames and boundaries was another important addition to Tatlin’s reliefs.  Tatlin wanted his art to be one with its environment, stating, “Let’s split open our figures and place the environment inside them.”[3]

He accomplished this liberation of space with his Counter-Relief by making the glass and wooden organic materials curve outward and away from the wooden background. Tatlin wanted his “real” material reliefs in “real” space, making his Counter-Relief public and almost confrontational with its three-dimensional aspect and “… cordoning off a perfect, private, ideal world.  It was this separation of the reality of art from the reality of life.”[4].   In other words, Tatlin wanted to prove his viewers that art didn’t have to be a two-dimensional painting or photograph.  He wanted to show that art could coexist with his viewers’ daily lives and could also cohabitate in with their environment.


[1] Christina Lodder, Russian Constructivism.  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 11.

[2]  Gray, Camilla.  The Russian Experiment in Art: 1863-1922  (London: Thames and Hudson , 1962),  180.

[3] Lodder, 17

[4]  Gray, 180

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