Thursday, April 21, 2011

Malevich Paintings and His Influence at Gagosian Gallery

In early twentieth century Russia Kazimir Malevich was one of the pioneers of abstract art. He is associated with the style of severe geometric abstraction known as Suprematism, which lead to the development of Constructivism. The art movement influenced the styles of artwork that followed throughout the twentieth century. His work was suppressed in Soviet Russia in the 1930s and remained almost unknown during the following two decades. There was a renewed interest in his work in the West in the mid-1950s as seen in the paintings of Ad Reinhardt and in developments such as Zero, Hard-edge painting and Minimalism. His work was most widely seen by Americans in his 1973 retrospective exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. One of the purposes behind this exhibition is to highlight Malevich's influence on American art in the later part of the century. To illustrate his influence the exhibition also features works by modern and contemporary American artists including John Baldessari, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly. Although the varying art forms in the show were each created during different periods of the turbulent twentieth century they relate to each other through the artists' interest in non-objective style using geometric form drawn from Malevich.

Artists believe that by creating a better and more beautiful environment new and better people will emerge from it. Suprematism, Constructivism and the Dutch movement "De Stijl" were formed based on this idea. Artists involved in these movements, except for Malevich, rejected the traditional fine art concepts as being sufficient unto themselves. They believed that art and design needed to combine to create an applied art, an art for everyone, which did not involve subjectivity and individualism. These movements were nearly the opposite of the preceding Art Nouveau or Surrealist styles. Suprematism and Constructivism dealt with infinity and the absolute. Suprematism was the more mystical side and Constructivism was more concerned with the future and technology. The result is dynamic pictorial structures striving for utopia. Malevich had a more spiritual approach to the Suprematist ideas.

The Gagosian Gallery is featuring six rare and pivotal paintings by Malevich. In the first main exhibition room are four of Malevich's Suprematist paintings three of which are from 1915, first exhibited in 1916. The strong Suprematism, 18th Construction (1915) is a small (20 7/8" x 20 7/8") square painting that simply depicts a cluster of rectangles that are floating diagonally. His paintings do not represent real objects. Malevich's paintings attempt to get beyond the physical world; he is trying to reach beyond the third dimension with pure abstraction. Malevich's Suprematism is an art of pure form. His art aims to show the superiority of and utilize the basic tools of art: color and form. Geometry is used as the universal language in an attempt to convey the supreme reality of existence: what he called "pure sensation". His passionate paintings attempt to convey weightless vibrating textures in an infinite expanse.

The first large exhibition room, featuring the most Malevich's in one room, (previously mentioned above) is an excellent way to start the show. The exhibition allows the space and time to get a close view of the paintings. These paintings are a pleasure to look at. Malevich uses rectangles, triangles and other signs on a white infinite space to create magical dynamic motion. When looking closely at the work one sees the artist's hand in the canvas: pencil marks, smudges, and uneven paint. The nails along the side of the canvas fastening it to the wood frame make you think of the force and perspiration that Malevich used to create his paintings so many years ago. The small size of the paintings creates an intimate experience, versus some of the American works, which are overwhelming in size.

Further into the exhibition Malevich's Desk and Room from 1913 is featured. The painting reveals Malevich's earlier interest in Fauvist and Cubist art. The colors and forms are heavy and laborious. Also in 1913 Malevich painted Black Square on a White Ground, which seems to directly influence Ellsworth Kelly's Black Square and White Square from 1953, which are in the show. Black Square on a White Ground shows that during that time Malevich was learning to control and drastically change his painting style.

Seeing American artists in the context of this Russian master creates the link between the artists and their work. Placing an ultraviolet fluorescent light piece by Dan Flavin within the context of the show makes the connection between the two artists that one doesn't always think of. Malevich's influence and impact on American artists of the later twentieth century are evident. Common in the works are clean long lines representing technology. Copper and stainless steel sculptures reflect materials used in architecture. The universal language of geometry fills the walls of the gallery. The show allows you to understand the roots of the once radical art movements of the fast paced twentieth century. You sense the flow of admiration and inspiration among the artists who created the work. They share a common philosophy that is represented in their many forms. Malevich paved the way for artists of the twentieth century to detach from the visible world. His paintings show a sense of the coming of an age of technology and a wanting to have a hand in shaping it. He added a spiritual beauty to our sense of technology.


  1. After mentioning the modern and contemporary American artists, you write that “Although the varying art forms in the show were each created during different periods of the turbulent twentieth century they relate to each other through the artists' interest in non-objective style using geometric form drawn from Malevich. Artists believe that by creating a better and more beautiful environment new and better people will emerge from it.”
    This is a bit confusing- which artists wanted a better world? The Americans or the Russians, or both? You also mention Malevich relationship to Suprematism, since Malevich was the founder of the movement and wrote the there manifesto he’s supramtistic ideas are far more relevant then the other you mention from the same time period. I think you should just have a paragraph about Malevich and Suprematism and leave the other out, so you can focus more on the relationship with the American artists’ work.

  2. Personally I am not all too familiar with the relationship shared between Abstract Expressionism and Russian Suprematism. The concise historical background that is provided in the first paragraph expands my awareness enabling me to better understand the rest of the review.

    The second paragraph becomes slightly hazy with the spiderweb explanation you offer between surrealism, suprematism, constructivism etc...perhaps simply the correlated examples to make the paragraph more transparent instead of making it feel like a passage from an Art History text book.

    Finally while your description of Malevich's pieces are precise and clear you do not offer as concise an examination of the other minimalist works to give your final paragraph the substance it deserves. The philosphical relationship you deduce, while valid, isn't reflected within the penultimate paragraph.

    Other than that, a very sharp and thorough review pertaining to the philosophical and aesthetic relationship between American and Russian abstract art.