Published Categorised as Art & Design, History, Popular Posts No Comments on Malevich

black square

Recently I went to the Malevich exhib­i­tion at the Tate Modern. I was vaguely aware of him as an avant-garde Russi­an artist (turns out more Polish-Ukrain­i­an) and his black square paint­ings which caused such a fuss, but I didn’t know much else about him. I’m glad I went to the exhib­i­tion.

It star­ted off with some of his early works, when he was an art student in Ukraine and my initial thoughts were “oh, these aren’t that impress­ive” because I was under the impres­sion they were from the 20s and were copies of other artist’s styles, then when I read the labels though I real­ised the paint­ings had been produced between 1905 and 1910 contem­por­ary with everything that was going on in the rest of Europe. Consid­er­ing that Russia had only abol­ished feud­al­ism 40 or so years earli­er and the Russi­an Empire was mostly pre-indus­tri­al at the time outside a few cities, that’s pretty impress­ive.

In the 20s, Malevich developed his own style, called Supre­mat­ism, and also branched out into graph­ic and costume design. I partic­u­larly liked this film they were show­ing of a modern ballet he designed for (the film is of an 80s perform­ance in English using the same designs). You can see where Klaus Nomi got some inspir­a­tion from. I’m not sure I could quite watch all the thing though.

The 20s was also when he did his infam­ous Black Square paint­ings. I under­stood why people would find it new and start­ling at the time, but I didn’t know the context of why they found it shock­ing. The Tate exhib­i­tion had a recre­ation of the origin­al exhib­i­tion hanging. In Russia, it’s tradi­tion­al to hang a gilded icon at an angle in a corner of the room. In Malevich’s exhib­i­tion there was just a big stark black square instead of a saint. You could see why it shocked people in a very tradi­tion­ally reli­gious coun­try. Even as a non-reli­gious person who doesn’t expect to see saints hung up every­where, the black square in the corner of the room was very strik­ing.

There was also a small prac­tice version on display, test­ing out the design on a piece of wood covered in gesso. Where it was worn and grubby it looked really creepy, like it was a piece of plaster chipped away from inside a cupboard in an old cottage, hint­ing at dark secrets. Maybe I have an over­act­ive imagin­a­tion.

I also enjoyed the teach­ing mater­i­als Malevich produced for a visit to Germany. I wonder how his name came across there. Maler means paint­er in German, it would be like having a visit in the UK from a famous Russi­an paint­er called Paintovsky.

After the revolu­tion, and once the Soviet regime’s enthu­si­asm for avant-garde art had waned with Stal­in coming to power, his works were banned from being shown, and with the excep­tion of one of his black squares being hung over his body at his wake after his death from cancer in 1935 were rarely seen until the Berlin Wall came down.

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