Malevich @ Tate Modern


The Tate’s incumbent blockbuster exhibition is about Matisse. However, running concurrently is a retrospective of the art of Russian artist Malevich that really ought to have just as much attention from gallery goers.

Kazimir Malevich was born in Kiev, whilst an administrative division of the Russian Empire in 1879. He founded the suprematist movement around 1913 and his seminal work Black Square, was first on display in 1915 at the Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 exhibition in what is now St Petersburg. Thus it seems almost fitting that nearly a century from this date, such a grand show should be hosted to celebrate his life and art with nine works from the original exhibition on display in the gallery.

However, before we get too carried away with Black Square, let us first mention the beginning of the exhibition, which moves chronologically through time. Here we see the artist’s beginnings and experimentations with different styles. We see Malevich play with impressionism, cubism and futurism, emulating other artists, much of which is vastly different from the geometric shapes he is most famous for today.

Following these early works we move into suprematist territory. The paintings no longer hang along one straight line but move about up and down the walls. The most infamous painting, Black Square, hanging high up in a corner of the gallery, as would a speaker be today. Although the original is not on display as it is too fragile to travel, a 1923 copy made by the artist has the same affect. These paintings have been hung exactly as they were in the original 1915 exhibition, thus literally recreating the Russia in which Malevich was working nearly 100 years ago. By placing the painting in the corner, Malevich likened it to Russian Orthodox icons, which were hung in the holy corner of homes. suprematism concerned itself with reduction, white backgrounds with plain shapes in the three primary colours as well as black and white. In 1927, Malevich described suprematism as ‘the primacy of pure feeling in creative art…the visual phenomena of the objective world are…meaningless; the significant thing is feeling.’ While some may ask where is the feeling in a bunch of boxes are, one is reminded that you must be pretty bold to replace an image of a saint with a black square.

Following on from this room we see Malevich’s suprematism on posters as well as crockery. Also on display is a huge collection of work on paper from the Nicholas Khardiev collection, where the viewer can see all the work, which went on behind something seemingly as simple as the black square.

Later on we learn that the artist did not stick with suprematism. In the final few galleries figures are re-introduced. At first the images are faceless and minimal. They are often grouped together in fours and each coloured in singular colours. I personally found these very interesting to look at, however already; others yearn for a return to suprematism, whose hopes are finally crushed in the final gallery when Malevich returns to a socialist realist style favoured by the Russian regime.

The show wonderfully tells about the life of Malevich and with it the birth and death of suprematism, a must see.

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art is on display at Tate Modern until 26 October

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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