Mayakovsky and the Constructivists

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930) was a Russian poet. As a youngster, he was imprisoned on three occasions for subversive activities. It was the beginning of a lifelong involvement with politics. In 1909, during a period of solitary confinement, he began to write poetry. On his release, he joined the Moscow Art School and became involved with members of the futurist movement. Here he met David Burlyuk, whom he considered his mentor. The 1912 futurist manifesto A Slap in the Face of Public Taste contained Mayakovsky’s first published poems. Both Burlyuk and Mayakovsky were expelled from the Moscow Art School in 1914 because of political agitation. At the same time, his stylistic development turned more and more towards the narrative. The work published during the period preceding the Russian Revolution established his reputation as a poet, both at home and abroad.

His first major poem A Cloud in Trousers (1915) dealt with issues of love, revolution, religion, and art. In it, Mayakovsky uses the language of the street, thus attacking persisting idealistic and romanticized notions of poetry. The impressions of war and revolution deeply influenced his artistic and political development. At the height of unrest in Russia, the poet was in Smolny, Petrograd. From there he witnessed the October Revolution. In the following years, he became the outstanding poet of the new Soviet Union.

Futurist artist had been willing to work with the Bolsheviks which enabled them to publish their books and pamphlets unhindered. By 1922 Futurism had given way to Constructivism. Aim and ideal of the new movement was to communicate on a mass scale and to connect art to everyday life. Artists and writers wanted to be known as ‘workers’ and started workers’ clubs in order to educate the masses. Constructivism was based on both scientific and utopian principles.

Mayakovsky had always identified experimentation with socio-political change. From 1922 to 1928, he was a leading member of the Left Art Front. However, towards the end of the 1920s he became disillusioned with the political course set out by Stalin. On 14 April 1930 he shot himself. Two years later, with the formation of the Union of Artists and Union of Writers, all artistic experimentation was officially proscribed.

On 11 September 1938 the Mayakovskaya Metro Station, built and decorated in the Stalinist architectural style (stainless steel, columns, marble walls and flooring), was opened to travellers in Moscow. Thirty-four mosaics brighten up the ceiling. They have the common theme of ‘Twenty-Four Hour Soviet Sky’. A Soviet heaven underground – it is the kind of tribute Russians pay to their great artists.