The short lived and legendary art school VKhUTEMAS was established in Moscow in 1920 as a result of radical reforms in art education after the October revolution. VKhUTEMAS is associated with the Russian avant garde and was a major centre for Constructivism. Faculty members included: Naum Gabo, Vasily Kandinsky, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Konstantin Melnikov, Lyubov Popova, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin. The school championed innovation in art and architecture and fostered an atmosphere of intellectual enquiry and practical experimentation. First year students were required to complete the ‘Basic Course’ which was an important part of the new teaching method and was considered the foundation of their art and design education.
Foundation courses in Britain grew out of the ‘Basic Course’ developed by Harry Thubron and Tom Hudson at Leeds College of Art in the late 1950’s. From this, and similar experiments undertaken by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton at Kings College, Newcastle, a new introductory course for art, design and architecture students emerged, called the Foundation course. The Foundation course was quickly adopted by art schools across Britain as the essential first year undertaken by all art and design students before they progressed to specialist undergraduate programmes across the range of art and design disciplines.
Is it possible that one of the major legacies of VKhUTEMAS as a radical and experimental art school was the establishment of the Foundation course as the programme which continues to underpin all facets of British art and design education?
The influence of VKhUTEMAS extended far beyond Soviet Russia. It had particularly strong links with the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau. The British basic design courses, initially developed at Leeds College of Art and Kings College, Newcastle, were directly influenced by the Bauhaus, and more indirectly by VKhUTEMAS.
This exhibition celebrates the centenary of VKhUTEMAS and speculates that part of its continuing legacy is the British Foundation programme. At the British Higher School of Art and Design, the Foundation Course as an experimental programme, is now flourishing once again in Moscow. The programme builds on both the radical tradition established in Britain in the 1960’s and, prior to that, 100 years ago this year at VKhUTEMAS.
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