Alexandra Exter was an innovative abstract expressionist painter and designer who worked in a variety of styles and is considered to be one of the most experimental woman of the avant-garde. She was active in Constructivism, a movement founded by artists who were interested in finding new ways to make art a part of everyday life. She also was interested in creating artwork that was functional.
Exter studied art in Kiev from 1901-1907. She associated with the intellectual elite of Kiev and Paris and counted the leading Russian painters, writers, and musicians among her friends. In 1908, she married lawyer Nikolai Exter (d. 1918). She began to create set designs and costumes for an important theater in Moscow beginning in the mid-1910s. Exter traveled widely, and it was in Paris where she had her first exhibit in 1912. Exter joined the Suprematists avant-garde group in 1915.
In 1916, she was painting in the style of abstractionism. She was drawing stage scenery and theatrical costumes and winning international recognition. Her theatrical sets were experimental with unique spatial structures. Exter designed a “synthetic theater” in which all the elements – scenery, costumes, performance, and music – blended in a dynamic whole. Her experimental designs also made their way into puppet designs.
In 1920, Exter left Kiev and moved to Moscow where she married for the second time. In 1921, she joined the Constructivist movement. In 1924, she left for Italy on the pretext of working for the Venice Biennale, but managed to cross to France where she resettled in Paris until her death. She taught drawing and scenography at Fernand Leger’s Academie d’Art Contemporain for four years. In 1936, she was in an exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art” in New York. After 1936, she dedicated herself to book illustration and was active as an illustrator for the rest of her life.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.