Recent Articles
News Of A Very Special Auction Happening Next Week
Investment Pieces
News Of A Very Special Auction Happening Next Week
10 Questions for LatchKey Gallery co-founders
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for LatchKey Gallery co-founders Natalie Kates and Amanda L. Uribe
INTERVIEW: Elmgreen & Dragset
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Elmgreen & Dragset 'What We Need to do, As Cultural Workers Today, Is to Find a New Way of Getting Back Our Dignity as Citizens'
10 Questions for RESORT Gallery co-founders Seth Adelsberger and
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for RESORT Gallery co-founders Seth Adelsberger and Alex Ebstein
10 Questions for River Gallery Founder Carl E. Smith
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for River Gallery Founder Carl E. Smith
10 Questions for Davis Editions and Originals Founder Jeff Davis
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for Davis Editions and Originals Founder Jeff Davis
10 Questions for Baby Blue Gallery Founder Caleb Beck
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for Baby Blue Gallery Founder Caleb Beck
10 Questions for Carvalho Park's Jennifer Carvalho
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for Carvalho Park co-Founder Jennifer Carvalho
The Making of Love, Rihanna: Luxury Supreme
Close Look
'A Piece of Art That I am Really Proud Of' - Rihanna on Love, Rihanna: Luxury Supreme
INTERVIEW: Sterling Ruby
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Sterling Ruby 'In America, often the response to negative aspects of the system is to retreat to platitudes about morals and family values. In this way nothing is achieved.'
INTERVIEW: Kerry James Marshall
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Kerry James Marshall 'I never think of artworks as having a quality that’s intended to mobilize people to action. They don’t make people do things. But they do put questions in the mind of a viewer that they may not have entertained before...'
Come On Our Virtual Studio Visit With Maria Jimena Herrera
Meet the Artist
Come On Our Virtual Studio Visit With Maria Jimena Herrera
Jeff Koons on Big Ideas and Gazing Balls
Perspectives
Jeff Koons on Desire, Beauty, the Vastness of the Universe, and the Intimacy of Right Here, Right Now
Could Artist Collectives Transform A Post-Corona Art World?
On Trend
Could Artist Collectives Transform A Post-Corona Art World?
INTERVIEW: Sarah Sze on How all Art is Essentially Sculpture
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Sarah Sze on the Changing Pace of Time and Space, the Ebb and Flow of Information, and How all Art is Essentially Sculpture

The Phaidon Folio

What Was Suprematism? A Brief History of the Russian Idealists Who Created Abstraction as We Know It

By

What Was Suprematism? A Brief History of the Russian Idealists Who Created Abstraction as We Know It
Installation view of "0.10 (Zero-Ten) The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting."

Suprematism—the Russian avant-garde art movement spearheaded by the painter Kazimir Malevich—is often credited as one of the earliest instances of “pure” abstraction, the geometric approach that came to define modern art. But how did it all start? In this excerpt from Phaidon's Art in Time, we take a look back at the surprisingly spiritual roots of this revolutionary period of art history to see how Malevich and his contemporaries sought to free themselves (and their art) from the messy detritus of the figure and the real world itself.

 

At an exhibition entitled “0.10” (“Zero Ten”) in St Petersburg in 1915, Black Square (completed in 1913), the first Suprematist work by Kazimir Malevich (1878–1935), hung in the corner of the room, the traditional setting for an icon in an Orthodox Russian home. The artwork was a square canvas painted black. Malevich claimed in 1927 that in works such as this, he was trying to “free art from the dead weight of the real world.” In rejecting narrative subject matter, Malevich chose to ignore both current political events and traditional religious imagery, replacing both with a search for something beyond the physical world. His extreme form of abstraction asks the viewer to meditate on the qualities of form and paint and glorifies these as spiritual in and of themselves.

 

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915Kazimir Malevich's Black Square, 1915

 

Malevich, who had come to Moscow from Kiev in 1904, had been part of a group of Russian artists there, including Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. Inspired by Cubism and Futurism, they experimented from 1910 with the dissolution and fragmentation of form, often combining this modern technique with traditional folk imagery, producing a version of the European avant-garde that was distinctly Russian and related to the work of Der Blaue Reiter. However, Malevich quickly developed beyond this inherently representational style. Seen as a complete purification of art, Suprematism reduces form to its essential qualities—geometric shapes, the simplest of which is the square—and removes the distractions of descriptive color. Many Suprematist paintings include multiple geometric forms, carefully and precisely placed so that they appear to float and overlap on a white background, lending the canvas an ethereal quality. This was important, for Malevich was opposed to the Constructivist ideals of his one-time friend Vladimir Tatlin, who saw art as functional and rooted in the material world. 

 

Kazimir Malevich, Supremist Composition: White on White, 1918Kazimir Malevich's Supremist Composition: White on White, 1918

 

In his “White on White” series, painted after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Malevich took his ideas to their logical conclusion. A white, slightly asymmetrical square floats across an off-white background, the painterly surface seeming to oscillate and shimmer. The varying tonality of the white paint and the positioning of the square prevent this from being a static, coldly calculated composition. Instead, the involvement of the artist can be clearly seen in the brushwork. The edges of the canvas do not act as constraints, but seem to represent infinite space, in which the overlaid square is free to move. Although the “White on White” series might initially appear to have nothing to do with the “real world,” Suprematism can be seen nevertheless as a means of reaching for the utopian ideals that were offered by the 1917 revolution. In removing specific subject matter from his art, Malevich freed both painting and its audience from the constraints of objective meaning—a form of revolution in itself. 

 

El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1919El Lissitzky's Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1919

 

Malevich had two pupils—Nikolai Suetin and Ilya Chashnik—and in 1922, all three were employed by the state porcelain factory (later renamed the Lomonosov porcelain factory), where their designs were integrated into the form or decoration of tea services and plates. The proletarian ideals of the factory lent Suprematism a function within the real world that fit neatly with its ideals for personal spirituality. 

[related-works-module]

DISCOVER

a treasure trove of fine art from the world's most renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. We offer exclusive works you can't find anywhere else.

LEARN

through exclusive content featuring art news, collecting guides, and interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and influencers.

BUY

authentic artworks from across the globe. Collecting with us means you're helping to sustain creative culture and supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

CONNECT

with our art advisors for buying advice or to help you find the art that's perfect for you. We have the resources to find works that suit your needs.

INSIDER ACCESS TO THE WORLD'S BEST ART

Artspace offers you authentic, exclusive works from world-renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. Collecting with us helps support creative culture while bringing you art news, interviews and access to global art resources.

  • COLLECT FROM 300+ GALLERIES & MUSEUMS