Palainco Seriously light minded

How Gino Sarfatti made a Rodchenko avant garde lamp

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It’s likely that, when hearing the name Alexander Rodchenko, your thoughts go to avant garde, Constructivism, Futurism or to his original photomontages. However, recently our eyes fell on two lamps published in a 1970s catalogue by Arteluce. These lamps were inspired by drawings made by Alexander Rodchenko fifty years earlier, in the 1920s. Our discovery led to this small study of Rodchenko as a designer of lamps, and how he is connected to the Italian firm Arteluce.

  • 02_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Table_Lamp_Varvara_Stepanova_Kaufman_Portrait Rodchenko wearing an overall made by his wife Varvara Stepanova. In the background a number of dismantled spatial constructions, 1922 (Photo: M. Kaufman).
  • Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) was one of the leading figures of the Russian Avant Garde. He was a painter, sculptor, designer and photographer, and as a central exponent of Russian Constructivism saw art as a practice serving social purposes. He set a new standard for design and advertising in the USSR. His photography was socially engaged, stylistically innovative, and opposed to a painterly aesthetic. Rodchenko’s experimentation embodied the spirit of the early days of the Soviet era.

  • 03_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Painting An early abstract composition.
    04_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Photo_Collage Photo collage - Crisis Flight: Aviation verse (1923).
  • 05_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Alienating_Photography Famous photograph appraised for alienating point of view, 1930.
  • Just after the October Revolution in 1917, people of all sorts, anarchists, intellectuals, workers, Bolsheviks and soldiers, began meeting to share their ideas. These gatherings would eventually find a fixed location in the Café Pittoresque in Moscow.

  • 06_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp_Cafe_Pittoresque Sketches for lamps for Café Pittoresque in Moscow (1917).
    07_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp_Cafe_Pittoresque
  • 08_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Cafe_Pittoresque Interior of Café Pittoresque, Moscow 1917-1918.
  • The main architects of the Café were Georgy Yakulov, Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko, who at the time were emerging artists. Rodchenko designed the lamps and made large-scale working drawings from Yakulov’s rough sketches.

    In the standard work on Rodchenko by Selim O. Khan-Magomedov some wonderful examples of his designs are presented. Furthermore, we found some even more abstract images on Russian website Alyonshin.

  • 09_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp_Cafe_Pittoresque Sketches for lamps for Café Pittoresque in Moscow (1917).
    10_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp_Cafe_Pittoresque
  • 11_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp Two other sketches from a Russian website on history and architecture (Alyonshin).
    12_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp
  • These sketches were very similar to the abstract compositions that had first appeared in his paintings. According to Selim O. Khan-Magomedov, “One can see that they were executed by a painter accustomed to working on flat surfaces. What is missing, in fact, is the space-volume relationship of a real object.” He also noted: “The lamps are designed in such a way that they are at one and the same time lampshade, reflector and decorative element.”

    And indeed, if you compare another sketch (in colour this time!) with one of his early paintings you clearly see the similarities.

  • 13_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp_Cafe_Pittoresque Sketch for a lamp for Café Pittoresque in Moscow (1917).
    14_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Painting An early work by Rodchenko (source: Tate Gallery, London).
  • You would think that it would be rather complicated to build an actual product based on these drawings alone. But fortunately Rodchenko made more than just paper sketches, some of the concepts were actually prototyped. And fifty years after Rodchenko concentrated on designing lamps, in 1971, Germano Celant, a famous Italian art historian, critic and curator, encouraged Gino Sarfatti, the owner of Arteluce and a gifted designer, to realise lamps based on (sketches of) the prototypes. Gino Sarfatti liked the idea and decided to create two lamps in the style of the Russian Avant Garde: No. 576 & No. 577.

    No. 577 was composed of four opaline frosted acrylic glass elements, suspended by four thin iron cords.

  • 15_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Catalogue_Archive_industrial_applied_arts_Paris_Workers_Club_1925_Table_Lamp_No_577 Pendant fixture (no. 577/S), Catalogue 1974 (from the Palainco archive).
    16_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Catalogue_Archive_industrial_applied_arts_Paris_Workers_Club_1925_Table_Lamp_No_577 Table lamp (No. 577) by Arteluce, Catalogue 1974 (from the Palainco archive).
  • 17_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Portrait Gino Sarfatti, founder of Arteluce and designer of many beautiful lamps.
  • This lamp came about due to the participation of the Soviet Union in an international exhibition of industrial and applied arts in Paris in 1925. Rodchenko was represented by a set of model furnishings for a worker’s club. Many of these objects were moveable or could be rotated or modified easily and thus allowed to change the organisation of the space.

    Today a reconstruction of the Workers’ Club is presented in the new Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. There, you can see first hand how Rodchenko created an interior on the principle of transformation.

  • 18_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Catalogue_Archive_industrial_applied_arts_Paris_Workers_Club_1925_Tretyakov_Moscow Reconstruction of the Workers' Club, New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
    19_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Catalogue_Archive_industrial_applied_arts_Paris_Workers_Club_1925 Fragment of the pavilion.
  • In 1929 the playwright Anatolii Glebov invited Rodchenko to design modular furniture for his new play Inga. The aim of the play was to contrast the old model of bourgeois life with the new work, living and recreation of the young working class. Rodchenko created various collapsible elements that were not only suitable on stage, but could actually be used in apartments.

  • 20_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Portrait_Inga_book_cover_Anatolii_Glebov Cover of a collection of essays.
    21_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Portrait_Inga_Poster_Anatolii_Glebov Poster for the play Inga in the Theatre of the Revolution (letterpress, 1929).
  • One of his designs was an elegant table lamp that was used in the second act of the play and as you can see it formed the inspiration for Gino Sarfatti to construct Arteluce No. 576. So Rodchenko produced sketches and lamps in Russia, and half a century later Sarfatti, an Italian, made lamps based on Rodchenko’s sketches, and based on the actual lamps he made for the play and the Workers’ Club. The Arteluce lamps are collaboration through time and across space, between two inspirational designers who never met.

  • 22_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Catalogue_Archive_Inga_Anatolii_Glebov_Table_Lamp_No_576
  • 23_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Catalogue_Archive_Inga_Anatolii_Glebov_Table_Lamp_No_576 Table Lamp No. 576 by Arteluce, Catalogue from 1974 (from the Palainco archive).
  • 24_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Garde_Abstract_Sketch_Lamp_Inga_Anatolii_Glebov_Table_Lamp_No_576 Original sketch for the table lamp for Inga, act II.
    25_Palainco_Alexander_Rodchenko_Arteluce_Gino_Sarfatti_Avant_Set_Lamp_Inga_Anatolii_Glebov_Table_Lamp_1929_No_576 A photo from the set for Inga, 1929.
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  • Unless otherwise stated, all material is sourced and/or generated internally. All rights reserved.

    • Text: 'Rodchenko - The Complete Work' (Thames and Hudson, 1986) by Selim O. Khan-Magomedov & Palainco
    • Image sources: : ‘Rodchenko – The Complete work (Thames and Hudson, 1986)’, Rodchencko Archive, House of Beauty and Culture, M. Kaufman, Prices for Antiques, Polinice, Alyoshin, Tate Gallery, Arte Case, ‘Tatlin’ by Larissa Alekseevna Zhadova (Rizzoli, 1988), Radford.edu & the Palainco Archive

    The article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any part or form without the prior written permission of the copyright holders.

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