Exhibition: Kasimir Malevich - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2006-07-10 • 2006-09-10

Kasimir Malevich

1st Floor - Contemporary Art

From the 10th July to the 10th September, for the first time in our country, the KASIMIR MALEVICH Exhibition, sponsored by CAJA DUERO, gathers over one hundred works by Kasimir MALEVICH (Kiev, 1879–Saint Petersburg, 1935), the founder of suprematism and one of the key figures in the European avant-garde.

MALEVICH is one of the most important artists in the 20th century. His suprematist theories and works paved the way towards a type of art freed from the burden of the object and, consequently towards total abstraction. The influence of his paintings, drawings, architectural designs and writings can still be felt today and it can be noted particularly in several generations of Basque artists of whom Jorge Oteiza is a  paradigm.

The exhibition, which gives us an overall, chronological view of the artist's work, includes his first impressionist sketches, symbolist and fauvist paintings, images of peasants from 1911 and 1912 and cubo-futurist compositions. It also shows the preparatory drawings for the costumes and the scenery of the opera, Victory over the Sun, preliminary to total abstraction and the suprematist works among which can be seen the emblematic Red Square (1915) and Black Square (c. 1923) from the Russian State Museum of Saint Petersburg, and a good number of post-suprematist works. The selection ends with works carried out towards 1930 which are representative of the return to figuration and peasant iconography. Also on exhibition are eleven "architectons" and a wide selection of documentary material such as books, photographs, lithographs and the artist's original testament.

With the aim in mind of showing the various stages in MALEVICH's work, a selection has been made of works belonging to numerous Russian provincial museums and private collections. Furthermore, little-known, original documents and works of great interest have been found. Among the institutions which have collaborated on the project are the Russian State Museum of Saint Petersburg, the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow and the National Museum of Modern Art -  the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris.

The foremost experts on the works of MALEVICH: Jean-Claude Marcadé, Jean-Hubert Martin and Evgenia Petrova collaborated in the organization of the exhibition which was held in the Exhibition Hall of La Pedrera (Barcelona) of the Caixa Catalunya Foundation.

IMPRESSIONISM AND SYMBOLISM. During the first decade of the 20th century, MALEVICH went through an initial stage of experimenting with various influences from the first European avant-garde movements. Between 1905 and 1906 he painted impressionist canvases and between 1907 and 1910 he went on to explore symbolism in a number of works in which he had a preference for pure colours and monochromatic backgrounds. Rest. Society in Top Hats (1908) is representative of this period.

FAUVISM AND PRIMITIVISM.Between 1908 and 1911, under the influence of primitivism, MALEVICH experimented with a variation on fauvism characterised by intense colours, loose brushwork and an iconography which was very close to symbolism. A good example of this period is his Self-portrait (1908-10).

PRIMITIVISM AND GEOMETRIC CEZANNISM. The Russian School of the 20th century was influenced by the neo-primitivism of the paintings of Natalia Goncharova and Mijaíl Larionov, who triumphed in Moscow around 1909. MALEVICH personalized this style by associating it with geometric cezannism. Technically speaking, the geometricization of the figurative elements, the schematism and the vigorous lines are well appreciated. During this period, MALEVICH found inspiration in the everyday life of the Russian people – the peasants, the religious world – present in canvases such as the Grass cutter (1911-12) and in drawings such as Profile of a Woman, Two men pulling a cart or Baths, all from between 1910 and 1911.

CUBO-FUTURISM.As of 1912-1913, MALEVICH used the term cubo-futurist to refer to the style of some of his works in which, movement and especially a palette of metallic colours were added to the geometric deconstruction of objects and characters. In this way, he synthesised the aesthetics of the rural world and the urban culture of the new industrial civilization. Particularly outstanding in this period is one of MALEVICH's masterpieces: Perfected Portrait of Ivan Vassilievich Kliunkov (1913).

ALOGISM. MALEVICH used the term alogist to describe a number of works created immedialtely before suprematism. Inspired by the Russian cubo-futurist poets, he placed a number of objects and inscriptions with no apparent relation on a cubist base. The aviator (1914), a metaphorical portrait of MALEVICH himself, sums up his intentions. 

DRAWINGS FOR VICTORY OVER THE SUN. In 1913, MALEVICH did the sketches for the costumes and the scenery for the opera, Victory over the sun by Matiushin. It was the first cubo-futurist spectacle of its kind and it took place in 1913 in a Saint Petersburg theatre. It concerns the elimination of the sun and, consequently, of the visible world illuminated by it and the triumph of black. The sketches for this opera almost immediately lead to the creation of the renowned Black Square

SUPREMATISM. Created by MALEVICH, suprematism is a formalist movement whose intention it is to rid art of its representative function. The canvases, Black square, Black cross and Black circle are emblematic works of suprematism which strove to go beyond the visible reality and capture the essence of things through their elementary shape. In 1915, The quadrangle marked the appearance for the first time of a non-object shape devoid of any naturalist description: black surrounded by white in the first monochrome in the history of art as the white part acts as the frame. 

Black square is the elimination on a pictorial surface of any mimetic representation of the sensitive world, the exploration of "nothingness liberated". This utopia led MALEVICH to paint, until 1920, a number of canvases on a white background in which the polychromatic variations of the square, the cross and the circle are captured in suspension. Red square was to be of particular importance as the collective Russian imagination identifies this colour with beauty and as, from 1917, MALEVICH wanted to make it into a symbol of the Russian Revolution. MALEVICH created three works with the black square: The Quadrangle (1915) for the last futurist exhibition - 0.10, Black square (1923) for the Biennial in Venice, 1924 and Black square (1929) for his retrospective exhibition in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. 

ARCHITECTONS. The architectons are the architectural-sculptural version of suprematism. The main contribution of MALEVICH's architectural ideas is his obsession for artistic architecture of a purely plastic nature, which can be seen in the utopian architectons without doors or windows and where the rejection of symmetry and the investment of traditional architectural relationships may be observed. The exhibition includes originals from 1920 and four reconstructions from the Georges Pompidou Centre carried out in 1989 with the help of drawings and photographs of the architectons, Alfa, Beta, Gota, and Zeta.

POST-SUPREMATISM. At the end of the 1920s, MALEVICH returned to figuration in order to convey the tragedy of the Russian peasant farmers in an increasingly Stalinist Soviet Union.  On these canvases, the peasants can be seen to be straight-backed and there are no references to work, which were present in the initial stage. Sportsmen (1930-31) shows a humanity which is totally out of the socio-political context with polychromatic garments, similar to the abstract trimmings on some popular Ucranian dresses, where the men are faceless dummies in series. In these last works, MALEVICH manifests his particular return to order, common among many other European, avant-garde artists.

Kasimir Malevich (Kiev, 1879–Saint Petersburg, 1935)
Self-Portrait, 1910
Gouache on paper, 26.8 x 27 cm