Kazimir Malevich has long been celebrated as one of the seminal founders of non-objective art in the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1932, he developed a system of abstract painting called Suprematism. To mark the 125th anniversary of Malevich's birth, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin is devoting an exhibition to this Russian artist. Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism is the first exhibition devoted exclusively to this decisive moment in the artist’s career. It presents paintings, drawings, and objects from important public and private collections all over the world. Among these, several works will be shown which have never been seen in the West, such as some of the recently rediscovered masterpieces by Malevich.
Kazimir Malevich’s art of pure form was meant to be universally comprehensible regardless of cultural or ethnic origin. Like his contemporaries Piet Mondrian and Vasiliy Kandinsky, Malevich created an artistic utopia that became the secular equivalent of religious painting – in his case intending to replace the ubiquitous icon of the Russian home –, creating works meant to inspire higher states of spiritual consciousness.
The exhibition opens with a group of paintings and drawings from 1913-1914 which Malevich called ”Alogisms,” works composed of abstract signs, symbols, shapes, and word fragments that form a bridge between his prior Cubist phase and the breakthrough to non-objective art. That watershed occurred in 1915, when he painted a simple black square on a white field, setting in motion a series of art works that became the focal point for the pre-Revolutionary years of the Russian Avant-Garde. Other works from this period show the artist exploring the expressive potential of this simple form, such as Elongated Plane, Four Squares, Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection, or Suprematism: Painterly Realism of a Football Player [Color Masses in the Fourth Dimension]. Gradually his vocabulary evolved to include other forms in simple opposition, and it is here that drawing also became an important medium in his expanding formulation of Suprematism. The exhibition will for the first time demonstrate the importance of drawing to his broader oeuvre, in part through the presentation of works that have never been exhibited or published before.
Malevich’s formulation of Suprematism evolved quickly. By late 1915-1916, it had shifted from an aesthetic of static composition into an ever more dynamic realm, exemplifying his desire to visually render different states of feeling and n-dimensionality. By 1917, however, he had returned to a vocabulary of simplicity, but this time anchored in less concrete form. The works are ethereal and seem to dissolve into imaginary space. Other works serve as an extensive dissertation on subtle transformation, as in Suprematism [Construction in Dissolution], which like the related White Square on White, would inspire a whole generation of contemporary artists in Europe and the US in the 1960s and 1970s.
Suprematism was also deployed into the realm of the practical, with Malevich experimenting with it as a means for social transformation through radical architectural form, in plaster studies he called Architektons. He also engaged in political art, conforming to the need to serve a new political reality while trying to remain faithful to his aesthetics, as well as venturing into the decorative and applied arts, like so many of his comrades and students.
But essentially Malevich remains a painter, and one who was completely devoted to the spiritual in art. This adherence to the metaphysical during a time of increasingly volatile social upheaval in Russia, where art became increasingly tied to the rigors of political process, ultimately led to the artist’s isolation from the artistic vanguard. By the late 1920s, he folded Suprematism into an investigation of the figure, before completely abandoning it in 1932 for an art steeped in Renaissance portraiture.
Kasimir Malevich: Suprematism is curated by Matthew Drutt, Chief Curator of the Menil Collection. The exhibition will subsequently be presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York from May 23 to September 7, 2003 and the Menil Collection in Houston from October 3, 2003 to January 11, 2004.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, including essays by Matthew Drutt, Nina Gourianova, Jean-Claude Marcadé, Tatiana Mikhienko, Evgenia Petrova, and Vasili Rakhitin, as well as a selection of the artist's letters, essays and diary entries. The soft cover publication is available in either English or German for € 35.
The Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin's Edition Number 22, "Cross/Square/Circle", based on an idea by Nicolas V. Iljine, consists of a set of three cuff links manufactured by a Moscow silversmith. The limited edition of 200 copies, created in 925 silver and boxed in a wooden casket, is available from the MuseumsShop for € 195.
Kasimir Malevich: Suprematism is accompanied by a supporting program of special events. In his "Curator's Talk" on Saturday, 18 January 2003 at 6 p.m., Matthew Drutt conducts a guided tour of the exhibition. This event and the ensuing discussion will take place in English.
During the 13th Long Museum Night on Saturday, 1 February 2003, the music of Dimitri Shostakovich will complement the visual impressions of Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism. The ensemble – Pedro Morais Andrade/Viola, Timothy Park/Cello, Lora Dimitrova/Piano – will be performing at 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 11 p.m. in the atrium of the Deutsche Bank. Afterwards the Long Museum Night will conclude with Russian culinary and musical delights that visitors may enjoy until 2 a.m.
The traditional Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin family brunch will take place on Sunday, 16th February 2003 at 11:30 a.m. While the grown-ups are enjoying the lecture tour A Comparison Between the stages of Russian Constructivism and French Surrealism, the children will be experimenting creatively with basic geometrical forms. Afterwards, a brunch will be hosted in the atrium of the Deutsche Bank.
On Wednesday, 5 March 2003 at 7 p.m., Professor Hans Kollhoff, of the architects' office of Kollhoff & Timmermann, and Bernhard Schulz, of the Berliner Tagesspiegel newspaper, will add a further dimension to the exhibition's theme when they discuss the influence of the Russian Avant-garde on modern architecture, under the title "Architekton and Architecture".
On Thursday, 20 March 2003 at 7 p.m. the painter and writer Haralampi G. Oroschakoff and the author and Malevich expert Dr. Jeannot Simmen will be discussing "Icons: pro and contra Postmodernism".
Man smoking a Pipe, 1913