Review of exhibition about contemporary artist Kazimir Malevich
Venue: Tate Modern, London, UK
At the 0.10 exhibition in Petrograd, Russia in 1915, Malevich presented his non-objective art for the very first time to a stunned audience. Suprematism, Malevich’s own movement, reduced the subject to objects of shape and colour with no pictures. Instinct dictates that a painting of a peasant woman should, at the very least, provide some kind of visual representation of the subject. However, Malevich completely strips away the visual aesthetics and the results are strikingly powerful with the bold colours and shapes creating energy and a sense of progressive movement. Malevich’s departure from convential painting was a brave move for its time. He had already experimented with Impressionism, Cubism and Futurism, the latter well represented by costumes Malevich was asked to design for the first Futurist opera called Victory Over The Sun.
Kazimir Malevich was born in Kiev in 1879 to Polish parents and was the eldest of 14 children. In his lifetime, Malevich witnessed great change in a pre-revolutionary Russia ruled by Tsar Nicholas II in which serfs represented approximately 80 per cent of the population.
Think of Malevich, and you think of the Black Square – possibly his most important work which he called an end and a beginning, the end of every attempt to feebly immitate the world of nature. “There would be no more copying anymore, no more representation. It would be the beginning of an art which would be entirely self-sustaining.” The apparent random display of artwork that surrounds a smaller version of the Black Square hanging high in the corner of one of the galleries are positioned exactly as they were in the exhibition of 1915.
Suprematism became popular around the time of the revolution with Malevich busy producing posters, costumes and designs for crockery as well as cartoons and portraits. However, the communist regime viewed Malevich’s radicalism with suspicion and arrested him for spying. He was disgraced and impoverished and forced to abandon suprematism for socialist realism propaganda. Much of his work was heavily censored, hidden from public view or destroyed in the decades that followed. Thankfully, enough has survived to enable us to appreciate his work.