Kazimir Malevich: Supermatism
Kazimir Malevich reconsidered, under his Suprematist looks only, was a daring enterprise, especially when offered to a public that would not have followed the artist’s trajectory since his Russian beginnings—from the transplantation of Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, the flirtatious creation of Cubo-Futurism—until he’d reached his unique, most prophetic voice: Suprematism.
From the early phase, only three Cubistic collages are being shown, among them a Composition with (a crossed out) Mona Lisa, with a Russian script: “Partial eclipse.” In spite of gaps at both ends of the chronology, the show is a brilliant realization due to the completeness and stunning variety of collected artifacts that embody, from 1915 to 1934, Malevich’s basic invention; the whole being splendidly illumined by a skillful and coherent installation. The absolute novelty of the show, however, lies in the recently acquired pieces, mainly from the Chaga-Kardjieff collection: Alogical drawings (1913-14), one of four extant Black Square paintings (1913), Dissolution of a Plane, Elongated Plane, Black Circle, Red Square, Black Cross, Composition with Plane in Projection, (1917), finally, Suprematism of the Mind (1920-22).
Kazimir Malevich, Plane in Rotation, called Black Circle, 1915
Oil on canvas
31 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches
Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Gmurzynska Zug
In the early twentieth century, Suprematism represented a leap into a totally non-representational, non-painterly, tarantella-like dynamic. Basic geometric shapes, isolated or in groups, were being energized, propelled into an optimistic ideal soaring from lower left to upper right, the vector alone suggesting time. The limits of perception and understanding are being questioned. An aura of simultaneous ecstatic concentration and idolatry of the will pervades these works.
Experienced “in flesh,” these formidable abstractions look “humanized”: slight wavings in texture and color, the crackled paint of the Black Square on white, the subtlest of whites upon off-whites, transport the viewer into a higher, supremely charged, inspirational state of mind.
Kazimir Malevich, Square, Study for the décore of Victory Over the Sun, Act 2, Scene 5, 1913
Pencil on paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches
Slate Museum of Theater and Music, St. Petersburg
Suprematism often reaches a level beyond rational comprehension (zaum), madly unconventional attitudes, appearing first in the 1913 opera-burlesque Victory Over the Sun (for which Malevich designed sets and costumes); later, it espoused more tragic forms. Among the early ones, the Black Square is that minimal form with an all-absorbing color invested with dense, multilevel significations: module for a combinatorial art: by spinning, division, multiplication, the square becomes circle, triangle, cross; personal seal, symbol for a dejected movement; above all, sign for an unknown, inscrutable god.
Noticeable is the de-centering of the painted image relative to the frames—imperceptibly squinted angles, elsewhere growing into diagonals. Vanishing planes or borders in dissolve, denoting movement at high speeds (a favorite futurist idea) produce a gasping effect.
Suprematism of the Mind symbolically places a white square of light—symbol of the Crucified—at the heart of a yellow, black and white Russian cross.
In the late twenties, indicted as a formalist, suspected of relations with foreigners, Malevich was pushed aside and severely limited in his moves. Life in Russia became more and more confining. Sensitive souls reacted to censorship with depression, often with despair. Malevich attempted to fight for survival (more like suicide) by complying, in an ironic, somber fashion with the demands of socialist realism.
He had used juicy fauve colors, in a rural expressionism of his own, to paint peasants and workers in 1913-16, rounded figures with hunched backs and immense, doe-eyes that stole the show. In the ‘30s, he’d paint these subjects again, in a static, reductive, post-suprematist manner: emaciated, faceless, bald, armless, powerless, doomed, yet of dignified bearing. Clad in checkered patterns of exquisite hues, working men and women stand in front of huts or against barren horizons. Only two exquisite female figures of this period are shown here, on either side of a wall: inspired curatorial decision.
In spite of his Architektons—mock-ups of stately, non-utilitarian buildings, anticipating future styles—Malevich refused to be labeled a “constructivist.”
He had created a cosmos suffused with quasi-mystical aspirations, meant to become normative for mankind; devised a formal, non-conformist system of signs; spewed out hundreds of pages—now brilliant, now abstruse—of philosophical texts and manifestoes; was a charismatic teacher; stirred up controversy and dissent, and suffered devastating Stalinist repression.
—Food for the thinking eye.