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In 1915, artist Vladimir Tatlin heralded the birth of the Constructivist movement with the debut of his corner counter-reliefs. Considered the father of Russian Constructivism, Tatlin, among fellow artists such as El Lissitzky and Aleksandr Rodchenko, promoted the use of industrial-related materials and questioned the traditional representation of space in art. Born on October 24, 1918—one year after the Bolshevik Revolution and Russia’s withdrawal from World War I—in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Sidney Gordin (né Shura Aleksandr Gordin) would soon pick up where his predecessors left off.

At the age of 4, Gordin came to the United States and settled with his family in New York City. While attending Brooklyn Technical High School, he studied draftsmanship and ironwork. Upon graduation, he enrolled at the Cooper Union, devoting his class schedule to courses in drawing and painting.

With the onset of World War II, New York City became a hotbed for the international avant-garde, allowing for an influx of European aesthetic movements. For the first time, Gordin turned his attention to the Constructivist art of his homeland. He created geometric abstractions that explored the ambiguous relationship between light and depth, and recalled the architectural designs of Tatlin and the Suprematist compositions of Kasimir Malevich.

By the end of World War II, the center of the art world shifted from Paris to New York and with it came the rise of Abstract Expressionism. As a member of The Club and the American Abstract Artists group, Gordin produced work that reflected his close proximity to the Ab-Ex scene. In his paintings and drawings of the 1940s and 1950s, he synthesized Cubist and Surrealist styles to create lyrical interpretations of movement.

In 1949, Gordin turned his attention to sculpture. Combining his background in draftsmanship and welding, he worked in three sculptural styles: a geometric format of intersecting steel planes; a jagged style of hammered bronze; and an arabesque design of welded iron rods that seem to suggest drawings done in space. Transforming his steady ink line into free-formed iron wires, these “air drawings” take on semi-representational forms in their acrobatic appearance.

Gordin began a lifelong relationship with the Whitney Museum of American Art when they acquired a metal construction for their permanent collection in 1953.

Following teaching stints at both Sarah Lawrence College and the New School for Social Research in New York, Gordin accepted a position within the Department of Art at the University of California, Berkeley in 1958. Coinciding with his move to the Bay Area, he began to employ wood in his sculptures, eventually leading to the creation of painted reliefs. Gordin used a predetermined group of shapes and a spontaneous color palette in order to wholly explore spatial relationships between forms. In both his three-dimensional reliefs and two-dimensional “flat paintings,” he united the crisp, disciplined line of his Constructivist heritage with the expressive brushwork that characterized Bay Area painting at that time.

From his humble beginnings at Brooklyn Technical High School to his 28 years as a professor at UC Berkeley, Gordin led a superlative career in both New York and San Francisco, with numerous museum and gallery exhibitions across the nation. Sullivan Goss- An American Gallery is pleased to present a legacy of Russian art in America with the first retrospective of Sidney Gordin’s Constructivist career since his death in 1996.

-Danielle Peltakian, Art Historian

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