Suprematism: alive and kicking

The traditions of Russian avant-garde painter Kazimir Malevich, the creator of the famous “Black Square”, are alive and well, judging by the exhibitions currently under way in New York and Moscow.

“A painter can be a creator when the forms of his painting have nothing to do with the subject”. This was what Malevich, who paved the way for a brand new type of art – Suprematism – said time and time again. Casting aside the prescriptions of academic art, he made his own rules. Malevich believed in a higher reality and considered that Suprematism allowed conveying or creating this. His “Black Square” continues to be a mystery and Malevich’s ideas continue to guide artistic processes in most curious ways. This becomes obvious at the “Malevich and the American Legacy” exhibition currently on at New York’s Gagosian gallery. There are only six works by Malevich here, but his presence is obvious in the different-coloured squares and other Suprematist elements – triangles, circles, crosses – that have found their way onto the canvases of modern US artists. The entire exhibition is made up of entirely Suprematist compositions.

Malevich’s successor in Moscow is Russian painter Elena Kitaeva, who presents the “Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner” exhibition, although she adheres to the rules of Suprematism much more strictly than her American counterparts. For instance, her sculptures, composed of simple geometric figures, are very much in the spirit of the movement, with their white, red and black colours. The total number of sculptures presented is a multiple of three – also in accordance with the rules of Suprematist art. Elena Kitayeva also sticks to Malevich’s symbolism principles:

“I view everything as being symbolic and having some sort of influence on us and the objects around us. I was a designer to begin with, but you can’t achieve everything through your work, you have to develop creatively. For instance, there are designers who paint in their free time, whereas I devote my leisure to modern art. Anyway, modern art has become free of boundaries and genres, it’s all become mixed up.”

It’s no wonder that Malevich still influences the work of his compatriots, whereas his popularity in the States is surprising, given that Malevich never had any direct contact with his US colleagues. His works were first shown in the US in 1936 after his death, at the cult Cubism and Abstractionism exhibition. Right after this, legendary art patron Solomon Guggenheim started putting together his own Malevich collection, which has now become one of the largest in the world. Malevich gained a new level of popularity after a 1973 retrospective of his work at the Guggenheim museum.

It was quite a different story in the USSR at the time: Malevich was considered a pure formalist, his work being either banned or cast aside as forgotten. Interest in his art reemerged in the 1980s, with Malevich cementing his position as a 20th century classic – Elena Kitayeva’s sculptures testify to that. 

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