Thursday, December 22, 2016

1882-1949: Alexandra Exter, Russian

Alexandra Exter was a Russian painter and designer of international stature in the early 20th century.

Her name is sometimes spelled "Aleksandra Ekster." She was born in the Ukraine section of the Russian Empire.

Background: Alexandra Grigorovich was born to a wealthy Ukrainian family. Her father was a businessman; her mother was Greek. She was raised in Kiev.

Training: Alexandra received an excellent private education, including private drawing lessons. Later she attended public "gymnasiums." Alexandra attended the Kiev Art Institute, graduating in 1906.

In 1907 and 1908 she studied art in Paris. She met all the key players in the art scene, which became important to the development of her career. She was good friends with Sonia and Robert Delaunay. She was especially interested in Cubism and Futurism.

Career: Alexandra started out as a Cubist, but she soon incorporated the Futurist dynamic into her work. She created her first purely abstract paintings in 1916, when nonobjective art was still rare. In the 1920s she progressed towards Constructivism and she played a key role in the development of Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich. She also had  a major influence on the Art Deco movement.

During the first phase of her career, from around 1910 until the outbreak of the First World War, Alexandra maintained a studio in Paris but she traveled frequently to Kiev and Moscow, and she took part in numerous exhibitions in all three cities, as well as Milan and Rome. She was an important disseminator of the new ideas from Western Europe in her country.

During the war, Alexandra opened a studio in Kiev that was an important center of avant-garde artists for a few years.

Costumes for the first Russian science fiction film
"Queen of Mars," 1924
Alexandra is particularly recognized for her original contribution in the sphere of theater design between 1916 and 1921, in which she applied Constructivist principles. She focused on structure and volume in her stage sets. Her innovative ideas brought a new dynamism to the design of stage scenery, costumes and lighting.

From 1921 to 1924 Alexandra held a teaching position in Moscow, where all the arts groups were dominated by the constructivist wing of the avant-garde. Alexandra was actively involved in all the avant-garde activities and showed work in an important constructivist exhibit.

In 1924, Alexandra immigrated to Paris.

Costume design for Salome, 1917
During the 1920s and 1930s, Alexandra continued her work as a theater designer. She worked on ballet, stage and film designs for Paris, London and Rome, and also designed furniture, china, and textiles, and illustrated books.

She was also an educator, teaching first at the Académie Moderne in Paris. Two years later she moved to the Academy of Contemporary Art, founded by Fernand Léger, where she lectured on theater art and stage design.

In 1936, she participated in a major exhibition in New York.

After that she concentrated on book illustration, and did some of her most renowned work in this field.

Private life: During an early stay in Paris, Alexandra had a romance with a painter and art critic named Ardengo Soffici.

In 1908, after her training period in Paris, when she was 26, Alexandra married a successful Kiev lawyer, Nikolai Ekster, who was her cousin. Between 1908 and 1914, Alexandra made long stays in Paris and frequently traveled between European and Russian capital cities.

Nikolai died in 1918 and Alexandra's mother died soon after.

In 1920, while she was concentrating on theatrical design, Alexandra married an actor, George Nekrassov.

In 1924 Alexandra and George emigrated to Paris.

She died in obscurity and poverty in a suburb of Paris in 1949 at the age of 67.

My photos of Alexandra's work:

Italian Town by the Sea, c. 1917
Minneapolis / Jan's photo, 2013

Construction, 1923
MoMA / Jan's photo, 2012

Theatrical Composition, c. 1925
Whitney (belongs to MoMA) / Jan's photo, 2015

Evening Dress, 1926
Los Angeles County/Jan's photo, 2017

Internet Examples:

Constructivist Stage Design:
Design for a Constructivist Stage Setting, 1924


The first example is influenced by Orphism.

Color Construction, 1912

Blue, Black, Red, 1918


Vernice, 1924
Art Deco

City, 1927