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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich Self-portrait, circa 1908
If you think that all art should be comforting, literal, narrative, perhaps somewhat erotic, and depict rationally classical subject matter, then your taste in art coincides quite easily with those of that noted German art connoisseur and would-be artist from the early 20th 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.

Suprematist Composition:
White on White, 1918,
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir (or sometimes Kasimir) Malevich was ten years older than Hitler. Born in Russia, near Kiev, in 1878, Kazimir studied art first in his hometown, then in Leningrad, even managing to publish a book, The Nonobjective World in 1926. It was to literature what his groundbreaking Suprematist Composition: White on White (right) from 1918, was to painting. He labeled his work "Suprematist" and under the influence of Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian, took Picasso's Cubism to it's ultimate conclusion. In the early 1930s 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 nonobjective art into abstract figures, rich in color and innovative design elements. About the same time his aesthetic opposite in Germany decided he also didn't like Malevich's work which he was labeled, along with the other Eastern European Avant-garde, as "degenerate."

Suprematist Painting:
(Rectangle and Circle), 1915,
Kazimir Malevich
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, recognizing 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) (left) 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 of 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.

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