Urgent Museum Notice

Alexandra Exter

A black-and-white photograph of a light-skinned, adult woman standing in her studio and surrounded by her large, abstract, geometric paintings. Her hair is short, light, and curly, and her hands rest in the pockets of the loosely fitted, dark colored, long-sleeved dress she is wearing.

Photo © Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

1882–1949

Born Alexandra Alexandrovna Grigorovich, she attended the Kiev Art Institute and married Nikolai Eugenovitch Exter. As a member of Russia’s pre-Revolutionary artistic avant-garde, Exter was close to other progressive artists, writers, and composers.

She traveled within Russia and throughout Western Europe, especially Paris, where she began exhibiting her work in 1912. She opened her own studio in Kiev and taught noted artists, including Pavel Tchelitchew. In 1916, when nonobjective art was still extremely rare, Exter created her first purely abstract paintings. Her set designs and costumes for a Moscow play won critical acclaim and launched her theatrical career.

For the next several decades, Exter produced innovative and influential stage designs for plays, ballets, and experimental films. Like many radical artists, Exter eventually left Russia, settling in Paris in 1924.

Exter continued experimenting with Constructivism and sometimes incorporated modern industrial materials such as celluloid and sheet metal into her futuristic designs. She remained an important influence through exhibitions, stage work, and teaching at Fernand Léger’s Académie d’Art Moderne.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Alexandra Exter
  • Birth

    Belostok (now Bialystok, Poland), 1882
  • Death

    Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, 1949
  • Phonetic Spelling

    oh-lihk-SAN-drah EHK-terr

Works by Alexandra Exter

Costume Design for "Les Equivoques d'Amour"

Russian artist Alexandra Exter created this costume design for Les Equivoques d’Amour” (“The Ambiguities of Love”), written by her friend, the French playwright Francis de Miomandre.

With its asymmetrical arrangement of bright colors and unexpected forms, the costume looks more like one of Exter’s abstract paintings than a traditional theatrical costume. Her approach to such projects was influenced by Leon Bakst,...

Painting shows a male figure in an elaborate costume. An abstract arrangement of bright colors and unexpected forms features voluminous chartreuse left sleeve, a blue pointed cuff and lightning bolt motif on the right sleeve, a fabric belt and a multicolored train, and black shoes.