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Suprematism

Started: 1913

Ended: Late 1920s

Suprematism Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Suprematism

The below artworks are the most important in Suprematism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Suprematism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Study for Decor of Victory Over the Sun (1913)

Study for Decor of Victory Over the Sun (1913)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: Malevich collaborated with Alexei Kruchenykh and Mikhail Matiushin on the decor for the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun (1913). This sketch for the backdrop of Act 2, Scene 5, foreshadows the development of Suprematism in its use of a geometric motif, though it doesn't prefigure any particular Suprematist piece. Without the use of color or shading, the square moves beyond a sense of Cubist space with its confrontational flatness. The black and white in this composition, which can signify presence from absence (creation), hints again at the birth of Malevich's new movement. The opera was a particularly appropriate place for the debut of Malevich's ideas, since the Futurist movement that inspired it was also important in shaping Suprematism. Just as Futurism aimed at a total renewal of Russian culture, so Suprematism claimed to supersede all art movements that had gone before it. Malevich's designs for the opera marked a major break with theatrical convention, since they were neither decorative nor did they illustrate a scene such as a landscape or a room. Their strange darkness also chimed with Mikhail Matiushin's belief that the opera was about "Victory, over the old accepted concept of the beautiful sun."

Pencil on paper - State Theatre Museum, St. Petersburg

Black Square (c. 1915)

Black Square (c. 1915)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: Once described as Malevich's "living, royal infant," the Black Square has been seen as a major landmark in the history of abstract art, a point of both beginning and ending. Malevich would paint four versions of it between 1915 and the early 1930s, and it is said that the last version was carried behind his coffin during his funeral. Pared down from a design he painted for the Victory Over the Sun (1913), this first version depicts a purely black square against a thin border of white, further obscuring any sense of normal space or perspective. At the 0.10 exhibition in 1915, Malevich emphasized its status by hanging it across the corner of a room, emulating the Russian tradition for the placement of religious icons.

Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: The three levels of Suprematism were described by Malevich as black, colored and white. Eight Red Rectangles is an example of the second, more dynamic phase, in which primary colors began to be used. The composition is somewhat ambiguous, since while on the one hand the rectangles can be read as floating in space, as if they were suspended on the wall, they can also be read as objects seen from above. Malevich appears to have read them in the latter way, since at one time he was fascinated by aerial photography. Indeed he later criticized this more dynamic phase of his Suprematist movement as 'aerial Suprematism,' since its compositions tended to echo pictures of the earth taken from the skies, and in this sense departed from his ambitions for a totally abstract, non-objective art. The uneven spacing and slight tilt of the juxtaposed shapes in Eight Red Rectangles, as well as the subtly different tones of red, infuse the composition with energy, allowing Malevich to experiment with his concept of "infinite" space.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919-20)

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919-20)

Artist: El Lissitzky

Artwork description & Analysis: This lithograph is one of El Lissitzky's most well-known works from his Suprematist period. It uses shape, positioning and color in keeping with the movement's principles, especially the "color" phase of the movement. The use of lettering and the pointillist shading, however, shows the evolution of his personal style. More interestingly, the poster reveals propagandistic intentions in its representation of the struggle between the revolutionary "reds" and the conservative "whites" in Russia. El Lissitzky described his own brand of Suprematism as Prounism, a derivation of 'proekt Unovisa' ('project for Unovis'), Unovis being the group that Malevich formed in Vitebsk in 1919, and which drew Lissitzky into the fold of the Suprematists.

Stedelijk Van Abbe-Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands - Stedelijk Van Abbe-Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands

Color Painting (Non-Objective Composition) (1917)

Color Painting (Non-Objective Composition) (1917)

Artist: Olga Rozanova

Artwork description & Analysis: Rozanova was one of the first to apply her own personal interpretation to Suprematism. Her interest in fabrics led her to concentrate on textural effects, occasionally straying from the primary palette to use softer, more feminine colors. A fine colorist, Rozanova's ability to employ delicate tonal contrasts was a prelude to the style of Mark Rothko, as shown in the composition of Color Painting.

Oil on canvas - State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

White Square on White (1917-18)

White Square on White (1917-18)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: Malevich repeatedly referred to "the white" as a representation of the transcendent state reached through Suprematism. This painting can be seen as the final, complete stage of his "transformation in the zero of form," since form has almost literally been reduced to nothing. The pure white of the canvas has negated any sense of traditional perspective, leaving the viewer to contemplate its "infinite" space. The picture is thus bled of color, the pure white making it easier to recognize the signs of the artist's work in the rich paint texture of the white square, texture being one of the basic qualities of painting as the Suprematists saw it. Painted some time after the Russian Revolution of 1917, one might read the White Square on White as an expression of Malevich's hopes for the creation of a new world under Communism, a world that might lead to spiritual, as well as material, freedom.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York



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Related Art and Artists

Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)
Artwork Images

Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)

Movement: Constructivism

Artist: Alexander Rodchenko

Artwork description & Analysis: Traditionally, color is used in art to describe the appearance of a particular object, or else to lend associations (the blue traditionally used to depict the Virgin Mary's robes in Renaissance paintings carried symbolic meanings). But Rodchenko's triptych focuses only on the material character of color, and it is considered the first artwork to do so. Here, red, blue, and yellow are used neither to describe an object nor to elicit certain associations; instead they are presented almost as a palette from which the artist can work. This is typical of the Constructivist attitude to materials, which was focused not on transforming them into art but on utilizing their properties in the most honest and effective ways possible. The triptych might be read as a rejection of the mysticism that seemed to tinge some work by Rodchenko's Suprematist contemporary, Kazimir Malevich. Rodchenko wrote of it, in 1921, "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting. These are the primary colors. Every plane is a discrete plane and there will be no more representation."

Oil on canvas - The Rodchenko and Stepanova Archive, Moscow

Homage to the Square: Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)

Homage to the Square: Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)

Movement: Bauhaus

Artist: Josef Albers

Artwork description & Analysis: Josef Albers described his most famous series, Homage to the Square, as "platters to serve color." He began the series in 1949 and worked on it until his death in 1976. This early version demonstrates his systematic approach to investigating the optical effects of colors. With this series, Albers explored how colors change depending on their placement within the composition. Although the series was created several years after the Bauhaus movement, the work is typical of the experimental, modernist approach to form and color that underpinned Bauhaus teaching. Teachers at the school believed that colors and forms could be reduced to essentials and analyzed as separate components. That analysis would yield understanding about the character and effects of these components, and that understanding would result in better design.

In 1999, Howard Singerman wrote: "Over and over again in the teaching of art at the Bauhaus and in its teaching in America, the re-creation of design as vision is represented by the field or, more familiarmly, by the picture plane as the gridded, ordered, law-bound rectangle with which, and on which, art fundamentals begin. The rectange marks the teaching of modernism as the visual arts, displacing and containing the human figure that stood at the center of the academic fine arts."

Oil on masonite - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Two Open Modular Cubes/Half-Off (1972)
Artwork Images

Two Open Modular Cubes/Half-Off (1972)

Movement: Minimalism

Artist: Sol LeWitt

Artwork description & Analysis: LeWitt was a key intellectual of the Minimalist group and is most known for his open-air, modular structures. He once wrote that "the most interesting characteristic of the cube is that it is relatively uninteresting." This comment speaks to what Minimalist artists aimed to achieve, which was to use objects in and for themselves, not as symbols or as representations of something else (as Frank Stella put it on another occasion: "What you see is what you see."). This lack of meaning is especially the case in works that remain untitled or that have purely descriptive titles, as do LeWitt's. Despite claiming the cube as uninteresting in itself, LeWitt would most often use this form as a jumping off point for his works, often employing them in a grid-like format that underscores his interest in systems and modules that could be repeated and expanded indefinitely, sometimes to the point of irrationality or visual chaos. The modularity, absence of color, and geometric starkness of his pieces all fit within the Minimalist aesthetic, as do their placement in the center of the gallery or museum space.

Enameled aluminum - Tate Gallery, London

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Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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