Kazimir Malevich is famous for painting a black square on a white canvas. But to make this reductive statement is to ignore all the other floating geometric shapes that he painted during one of the most groundbreaking – and then shocking – revolutions in Modern art. In 1915 these were all displayed in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) at the exhibition 'Poslednyaya futuristicheskaya vystavka kartin: 0.10' ( The last Futurist exhibition of paintings: 0.10’). But of all the lovely shapes that were innaugerated into art history during this exhibition, the black square remains the most revered. Malevich positioned it in the ceiling corner of the gallery usually reserved for religious icons. It is now held secure in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, where its craquelured condition has given rise to the art-world in-joke about it now being called “The Black and White Square”. The highlight of this huge retrospective at Tate Modern is a recreation of this exhibition (although a later, better-preserved version of the square is being used, so you won’t be able to make the funny joke).
Hilarity aside, this show is bound for success in London, having already found acclaim at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn. It puts Malevich in perspective, and gives a full account of his career from early the Monet and Signac style Impressionist pieces, through to Cubism, then into the black squares which he called “Suprematism” and then back into more figurative works as the Soviet era dragged on.
What sets Malevich apart, however, and marks his place in history is of course his Suprematism. Basically, he just went further; no one else went as abstract as him. His work comes out of a time when the when a new art-orthodoxy was being established in Russia through a firm belief in Constructivism – that art should service the state or the revolution. Malevich reasoned himself out of all that, all social concerns. As a result he is seen as a Modern painter who went further than Modernism. People love Malevich like they love Duchamp. Perhaps this is helped by the fact that, like Duchamp, actual works made by him are quite rare and hard to bring together. Black Squares are very easy to fake, and there are various committees who claim to be able to authenticate Malevich’s work, all of whom have a tendency to squabble. Banned during the Soviet Union, it is very hard to link a black shape in 1916 with no exhibition history of provenance to a black shape in 2014. Authentic, dated Malevich works are hard to come by, with a cache of 70 works that made its way (in Malevich’s arms) to Berlin in 1927 being basically it.
This exhibition is the first Malevich retrospective in 25 years, i.e. since the Cold War. He is one of the great heroes of modern art, unseen but not unsung, and this exhibition will be well worth seeing.
|What||Malevich, Tate Modern|
|Where||Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Southwark (underground)|
16 Jul 14 – 26 Oct 14, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via Tate Modern|