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Kasimir Malevich. Black Square

"The world is the world, not spirit or matter."

Kazimir Malevich

If you think that all art should be comforting, literal, narrative, perhaps somewhat erotic, and depict rationally classical articlesubtitleject matter, then your taste in art coincides quite easily with those of that noted German art connoisseur and would-be artist from the early twentieth century, Adolf Hitler. If, on the other hand, you feel art should have no relation whatsoever with nature, humanity, politics, or social message but exist purely for its own being, its form dictated only from the graphic, intellectual exercises of the artist's brain, then your tastes would fall perfectly in line with another art extremist of the time, Kazimir Malevich.

Kazimir Malevich was born in Kiev, one of six children, to Russified Poles. He developed a passion for art during his teens, largely teaching himself while living in the Ukraine. In 1904, having saved money from his job as a railroad clerk, Malevich moved to Moscow to study art full-time at the school of Fedor Rerberg. While under his tutorship, Malevich produced Symbolist, Impressionist and Art Nouveau paintings and drawings. In 1907 he first took part in the Moscow Artists' Society's twice yearly exhibition along with such artists as David Burliuk, Aleksander Shevchenko and Natalia Goncharova. In 1909, with a broad knowledge of Western art, there was a move in Malevich's work towards Post-Impressionism. With the influence of contemporary French art, however, and of the Russian avant-garde, Malevich's style developed into one of Cubo-Futurism, for example 'The Knife Grinder' (1912).

Malevich's new outlook was first seen at the 'Donkey's Tail' exhibition in 1912 arranged to promote Neo-Primitivist styles and articlesubtitlejects. His paintings, generally of peasants and urban scenes, were often brightly coloured and highly expressive, for example 'On the Boulevard' (1911). In 1913 Malevich met a group of artists and poets interested in taking a more philosophical and theoretical approach to art. The theory espoused by Krucherykh and Khlebnikov of the 'self-sufficient world' influenced Malevich enormously. The notion of 'zaum' was promoted, a state where experience occurs beyond the naturally perceived world. This concept and his work for the Cubo-Futurist opera 'Victory Over The Sun' (1913) propelled Malevich into the style of Suprematism. It was first seen at the '0,10' (Zero-Ten) exhibition of 1915, and is best shown by works such as 'Black Square' (1915) and 'Black Cross' (1916-1917). Suprematism reduced abstract painting to a previously unheard of geometrical simplicity. His work at this time ranged from the austere with his 'White on White' series to the colourful such as in 'Yellow Parallelogram on White' (1917). Although Malevich only worked in this style for about five years, it is crucial to understanding his development and his work as a whole.

He produced a great deal of work during his Suprematist period and in 1919, having decided his exploration of this area was complete, he turned to teaching. In 1922 he settled in Petrograd and taught at the Institute for Artistic Culture from 1922 to 1927. In the late Twenties he took up figurative painting once more, depicting peasants in colourful and highly stylised works, for example 'Woman with a Rake' (1928-1932). His work, however, was in opposition to the ideology of the government at that time and Malevich fell out of favour. Nevertheless, his contribution to 20th century art is of tremendous importance. Both in his experiments with style and his theoretical writings, his influence on abstract art is beyond doubt. It was to literature what his groundbreaking White on White from 1918, was to painting. He labelled his work "Suprematist" and under the influence of Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian, took Picasso's Cubism to its ultimate conclusion. In the early 1920s, the Communist government of his homeland came to the conclusion they didn't like his work despite the fact he'd moved back from purely non-objective art into abstract figures, rich in colour and innovative design elements. A decade later, his aesthetic opposite in Germany decided he also didn't like Malevich's work and it was labelled along the other Eastern European Avant-garde as "degenerate."

Scores of Malevich's work from the 1920s were brought by the artist himself out of Russia to be exhibited in Germany, which, at the time, was more accepting of his work than was the Soviet Union. Malevich died in 1935 without having retrieved any of them. About the same time, the director of the Landesmuseum in Hanover, Germany, Dr. Alexander Domer, recognising the importance of Malevich's work in the development of abstract art, managed to smuggle out of Germany in his luggage, two small works by Malevich when he fled to the United States. Today, for the time being at least, Suprematist Painting (Rectangle and Circle) and an untitled drawing rest in Harvard's Busch-Reisinger Museum; though since the fall of Communism in Russia in 1993, Malevich's heirs have mounted a campaign to recover all his widely scattered work. Such repositories as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Harvard museum have agreed to purchases or return their Malevich collections. However, the biggest cache rests with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam with owns 36 Malevich paintings, making it the largest collection outside Russia. Not surprisingly, with a single Malevich Suprematist period painting now worth upwards to a million dollars, the Stedelijk has announced it has no plans to repatriate any of Malevich's work.

The Russian painter, Kasimir Malevich implanted the Dada mentality of Eastern Europe within the Abstract Expressionist family tree. In a career tragically at odds with the turbulent political upheavals of Mother Russia in the Post-World War One era, Malevich's work aspired to a visual and compositional purity eschewing very nearly every single element of design known to man. In a 1918 painting entitled White on White, his basic off-white, off-balance square on a white square canvas contrived to stretch the very definition of painted art almost to the breaking point. Yet, his "less is more" theories injected an element of articlesubtitletlety into Abstract Expressionism that was to influence the American branch of this organic art from Frankenthaler, Rothko, and Pollock to the so called "Minimalist" movement in the 1960's.

Black Square

The Black Square of Kazimir Malevich is one of the most famous creations of Russian art in the last century. The first Black Square was painted in 1915 to become the turning point in the development of Russian avant-garde.

Black Square against white background became the symbol, the basic element in the system of the art of suprematism, the step into the new art. The artist himself created several variants of the Black Square. All four Squares painted by Malevich from 1915 to the early 1930s developed the same idea. Different are not only the sequence and year of creation, but also the color, design and texture. Malevich turned back to the Black Square every time he needed to present his work in an assertive and significant way, often in connection with the most important exhibitions. However he always created a new version rather than copied the previous one.

Malevich for the first time showed his Black Square (now at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow) at the Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10 in Petrograd in 1915. A Black Square put against the sun appeared for the first time in the 1913 scenery designs for the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun.

The second Black Square was painted about 1923 with Kazimir Malevich's participation by his closest disciples, Anna Leporskaya, Konstantin Rozhdestvensky and Nikolay Suyetin, for a triptych which also included Cross and Circle (now at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). Being one of the elementary forms, the square as a part of the triptych was no longer unique. Since the triptych embodied the idea of collective work which was of great importance to Malevich, it is not as important by who exactly the idea was realized.

Some believe that the third Black Square (Tretyakov Gallery) was painted in 1929 for Malevich's one-man show, following request of Aleksey Fedorov-Davydov, Assistant Director of the Gallery, because of the poor condition of the 1915 Square. This is the "blindest", most "hopeless" square, thickly painted over black. It is as different from the first one, as Malevich's life and work were different compared to 1915.

One more Black Square, smallest and, probably, latest, touches upon the motif of red and black which was important to Malevich. It may have been intended to make a diptych with the Red Square, though of smaller size, probably for the exhibition Artists of the RSFSR: 15 Years, held in Leningrad in 1932 which was to become the last important venue in the history of Russian avant-garde. The two Squares, Black and Red, were the centerpiece of Malevich's exhibition in the show. This Black Square may have been a recapitulation when the artist worn by struggle and infirmity reproduced his Victory over the Sun at a new stage. The last Square, despite the author's note "1913" on the reverse, is believed to have been created in the late twenties or early thirties, for there are no earlier mentions of it. It was one of the few of Malevich's paintings which were not handed over by the artist's heirs to the Russian Museum but were kept by his family. As legend goes, it was carried behind Malevich's coffin on the day when he was buried. When the artist's widow Natalya Andreyevna Manchenko died, the last variant of the Black Square along with Malevich's Self-portrait and Wife's Portrait passed to her relatives who later sold them to Incombank.

After the 1998 crisis this collection except the Black Square was offered for sale. The Culture Ministry of the Russian Federation used its privilege to buy this precious work of art with the financial assistance of Vladimir Potanin, President of Interros Holding, and hand it over to the State Hermitage Museum.

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Kazimir Malevich

K.Malevich. Black Square K.Malevich. Soldier of the First Division K.Malevich. Self Portrait K.Malevich. Red Square K.Malevich. Suprematist Composition, White on White K.Malevich. Black Square and Red Square K.Malevich. Suprematism

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