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Among the bewildering flurry of "isms" spawned by Cubism, the most important was Constructivism. All the bastard Modernist movements - Futurism, Vorticism, Suprematism, Mondrian's Neo-Plasticism et al - shared an aesthetic based on forms first fractured and then remodelled. It was as if, for 20 or so years from 1907, European art was hit by an optical virus that shattered rounded shapes into planes and shards. Most of the styles, however, remained just that - theoretical and confined to art. Constructivism, although a specifically Russian movement and a short-lived one at that, was different. Because it was created by the radical avant-garde, and born with the revolution and co-opted by it, Constructivism marched willingly in step with the nascent Soviet state. Its practitioners sought not just to remake art but also to play an active role in remaking society. Constructivism was the artistic arm of Bolshevism triumphant.

Two of the movement's central figures, Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) - its theorist and figurehead - and Liubov Popova (1889-1924), its most significant female adherent, are the subject of Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism at Tate Britain (from 12 February). It is an exhibition that charts how they rejected art for art's sake and turned themselves instead into social engineers, and also how they stayed wilfully blind to the brutalities of the regime they served and fostered. Both started their careers as painters who, after the 1917 Revolution, refined their Cubist vocabulary of cones, rectangles and overlapping planes to focus on the material properties of simple shapes and how best to give them a special presence. "I don't think that non-objective form is the final form," wrote Popova, "it is the revolutionary condition of form." What this meant on the canvas was abstract shapes, mechanical precision, increased linearity and making every line or slab of colour strive to escape two dimensions into a third - to become elements of construction. The result was an art of the ruler and compass, dramatic but dry, theoretical and devoid of narrative, emotion or spirituality.

The culmination came in 1921 with the 5x5=25 exhibition in which Rodchenko, Popova and three colleagues each showed five pieces. Rodchenko's included three monochromes and with them he declared the death of painting: "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over." However premature the claim, it freed Rodchenko and Popova to follow a more utilitarian path.

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