Exuding energy, enthusiasm, optimism, Russian Constructivism propels you on. You can’t help but feel its confidence and conviction as Tate Modern’s major spring exhibition charts the progress of this early 20th-century Russian art movement in the years following the Russian Revolution of October 1917. Tate focuses on the work of two leading lights of the Constructivist movement, Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Liubov Popova (1889-1924). They cover the period from 1917 to 1929, years that saw immense artistic experimentation as artists rejected the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’, believing instead that art should be used for practical social purposes. Art was to participate in the revolution’s transformation of everyday life. The opening room is a crash course of sorts on Constructivism – the early trademark geometric paintings of Rodchenko and Popova, all right angles and rhomboids, polygons and purpose. The next 11 rooms follow these two, both influential artists in the Russian avant-garde, as they gave up painting and turned simultaneously, it seems, to virtually everything else: architectural design, sculpture, propaganda, and a mass of product art, advertising, film posters, magazine and book covers, theatre sets, costume and fabric design. Rodchenko also took on groundbreaking photography.

Room on room, Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism marches on and will go on doing so until May 17. It’s an ambitious, large-scale, complex exhibition. There are 350 works in all. It takes determination, needs time. It won’t have mass appeal. But it is striking and sweeps you along with the spirit of the times.

Let’s look at a few. Take that first room, for example, where the egalitarian principles of Communism are self-evident (women artists now, for a time at least, enjoyed parity with their male colleagues). Half the paintings in the room are by Rodchenko, and half by Popova.

His are tight explorations of geometry, line and texture, circles upon circles, ellipses: experiments in ‘non-objectivity’. One from his Black on Black series (1918), its half-oval shapes overlapping in shifting tones of blackest black, was a reaction to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square of 1915.

Similarly responding to Malevich’s ideas but going further, Popova’s Painterly Architectonics, a stunning row of abstract paintings where colourful geometric shapes jostle one against the other, are urgent and edgy. As their title implies, Popova veers towards architecture and three-dimensional structures, trying to contain their energy within a conventional flat frame. Also at the start are a couple of works by Rodchenko’s wife and fellow Constructivist, Varvara Stepanova that encapsulate their ideas: her angular, unfussy ink drawings give us Rodchenko, the Constructor and Liubov Popova, the Constructor (both 1922). Incidentally, the term Construction Art was first used in 1917 by Malevich to describe Rodchenko’s work, but he was being less than flattering. Moving on, Popova’s dynamism seems to explode in room three with her Space Force Constructions (1920-21). Kandinsky’s expressionist influence also shows here briefly with colourful looser works from both artists.

Then, past experiments in construction and material that exemplify their idea of the ‘artist as engineer’ on to two rooms dedicated to an exhibition that proclaimed the ‘end of painting’. Popova and Rodchenko, and colleagues Aleksandra Ekster, Aleksandr Vesnin and Varvara Stepanova, organised the exhibition in Moscow in 1921. Called 5 x 5=25, five artists each exhibited five paintings. Rodchenko’s famous triptych of monochromatic canvases stole the show. Pure Red Colour, Pure Yellow Colour, Pure Blue Colour, he later explained, “reduced painting to its logical conclusion”.

Having dispensed with painting, the second part of that exhibition was devoted to industrial production. Adopting the slogan ‘art into life’, production art now filled their lives and thus also the remainder of the Tate’s show. The Constructivists respond to the call for innovative designs with furniture, clothing (see Popova’s hammer and sickle fabric design), dishes and other household goods. Also, educational and propaganda posters aimed at winning support for Bolshevik ideas in a largely illiterate society. Don’t miss Rodchenko’s iconic posters for the cinema, from two made for Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin (see above), to those for Cine-Eye and One-Sixth Part of the World directed by Dziga Vertov. Or Rodchenko’s portraits of key figures in the Constructivist movement, his portrayals of street life and new Soviet architecture.

Part of the fun of this exhibition is finding advertising posters for goods such as Red October cookies, Moscow’s department store Gum (the State Universal Store), the State Airline Dobrolet, or the happy woman with oversized shoes who promotes the Rubber Trust. There’s plenty of scope for this in the latter half of the show. Many works, with defiant arrows and colouring and lettering that shouts, look to today’s eyes much like the results of a sixth-form poster competition. But in their time they were altogether new, prototypes for Constructivism’s enduring impact on 20th-century art and design. The end of this exhibition seems to dissolve in some confusion. It all rather fizzles out, much as, maybe as the curators intended, the Constructivists’ utopian dream of a fairer bountiful Russia foundered, or the Constructivist art movement lost ground by the 1930s, marginalised by Social Realism, the then sole approved style of the Soviet Union.

True to this, I had trouble finding the exit. But did eventually in Rodchenko’s model Workers’ Club, a showpiece for the 1925 ‘International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts’ in Paris, never built in his own country but recreated here as a finale to Constructivism. For information visit: www.tate.org.uk