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Suprematism Collage

Suprematism

Started: 1913

Ended: Late 1920s

Suprematism Timeline

Quotes

"By 'Suprematism' I mean the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling."
Kazimir Malevich
"Only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners of nature, madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a work of pure, living art.
Kazimir Malevich
I say to all: reject love, reject aestheticism, reject the trunks of wisdom, for in the new culture your wisdom is laughable and insignificant. I have untied the knot of wisdom and set free the consciousness of color! Remove from yourselves quickly the hardened skin of centuries, so that you can catch up with us more easily. I have overcome the impossible and formed gulfs with my breathing. You are in the nets of the horizon, like fish! We, the Suprematists, throw open the way to you. Hurry! For tomorrow you will not recognize us.
Kazimir Malevich
"I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting"
Alexander Rodchenko
"I transformed myself in the zero form and emerged from nothing to creation, that is, to Suprematism, to the new realism in painting- to non-objective creation"
Kazimir Malevich
"[Suprematism] will liberate all those engaged in creative activity and make the world into a true model of perfection. this is the model we await from Kasimir Malevich. AFTER THE OLD TESTAMENT THERE CAME THE NEW — AFTER THE NEW THE COMMUNIST — AND AFTER THE COMMUNIST THERE FOLLOWS FINALLY THE TESTAMENT OF SUPREMATISM."
El Lissitzky, 1918
"And amid the thunderous roar of a world in collision WE, ON THE LAST STAGE OF THE PATH TO SUPREMATISM BLASTED ASIDE THE OLD WORK OF ART LIKE A BEING OF FLESH AND BLOOD AND TURNED IT INTO A WORLD FLOATING IN SPACE. WE CARRIED BOTH PICTURE AND VIEWER OUT BEYOND THE CONFINES OF THIS SPHERE AND IN ORDER TO COMPREHEND IT FULLY THE VIEWER MUST CIRCLE LIKE A PLANET ROUND THE PICTURE WHICH REMAINS IMMOBILE IN THE CENTER. The empty phrase 'art for art's sake' had already been wiped out."
El Lissitzky
"I have broken the blue boundary of color limits, come out into the white; beside me comrade-pilots swim in this infinity"
Kazimir Malevich

KEY ARTISTS

Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich
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Ilya ChashnikIlya Chashnik
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El LissitzkyEl Lissitzky
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Alexander RodchenkoAlexander Rodchenko
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Olga RozanovaOlga Rozanova
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Nikolai SuetinNikolai Suetin
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"Suprematism has advanced the ultimate tip of the visual pyramid of perspective into infinity.... We see that Suprematism has swept away from the plane the illusions of two-dimensional planimetric space, the illusions of three-dimensional perspective space, and has created the ultimate illusion of irrational space, with its infinite extensibility into the background and foreground."

El Lissitzky Signature

Beginnings

Suprematism was an art movement founded in Russia during the First World War. The first hints of it emerged in background and costume sketches that Kazimir Malevich designed in 1913 for Victory Over the Sun, a Futurist opera performed in St. Petersburg. While the drawings still have a clear relationship to Cubo-Futurism (a Russian art movement in which Malevich was prominently involved), the simple shapes that provide a visual foundation for Suprematism appear repeatedly. Rich color is also discarded in favor of black and white, which Malevich later used as a metaphor for creation in his writings. Of particular importance is the Black Square (c. 1915), which became the centerpiece of his new movement.

The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 in Petrograd (1915-1916) where Malevich famously placed his black square in the corner, in a place where a typical Russian religious icon would hang in a room.
The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 in Petrograd (1915-1916) where Malevich famously placed his black square in the corner, in a place where a typical Russian religious icon would hang in a room.

In 1915, the Russian artists Kseniya Boguslavskaya, Ivan Klyun, Mikhail Menkov, Ivan Puni and Olga Rozanova joined with Kazimir Malevich to form the Suprematist group. Together, they unveiled their new work to the public at The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 (1915-16). Their works featured an array of geometric shapes suspended above a white or light-colored background. The variety of shapes, sizes and angles creates a sense of depth in these compositions, making the squares, circles and rectangles appear to be moving in space.

Concepts and Styles

Kazimir Malevich surrounded by his works at an exhibition
Kazimir Malevich surrounded by his works at an exhibition

Suprematist painting abandoned realism, which Malevich considered a distraction from the transcendental experience that the art was meant to evoke. Suprematism can be seen as the logical conclusion of Futurism's interest in movement and Cubism's reduced forms and multiple perspectives. The square, which Malevich called "the face of a new art," represented the birth of his new movement, becoming a figurehead to which critics and others artists rallied in support of the new style. But many others accused it of nihilism: the artist and critic Alexandre Benois attacked it as a "sermon of nothingness and destruction."

Malevich published a manifesto to coincide with the 1915 exhibition, called From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism in Art. He claimed to have passed beyond the boundaries of reality into a new awareness. With this, the motifs in his paintings narrowed to include only the circle, square and rectangle. Critics have sometimes interpreted these motifs as references to mystical ideas, and some of Malevich's more florid pronouncements seem to offer support for this: of his use of the circle, he said, "I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped from the circle of things"; and he talked of the Black Square as "a living, royal infant." But, in fact, Malevich scorned symbolism: for him, the motifs were only building blocks, the most fundamental elements in painting, or, as he put it, "the zero of form."

Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky both have a black square on the sleeves of their jackets, displaying their union in the UNOVIS group (early 1920s), a collective that practiced the principles of Malevich's Suprematism
Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky both have a black square on the sleeves of their jackets, displaying their union in the UNOVIS group (early 1920s), a collective that practiced the principles of Malevich's Suprematism

Malevich divided the progression of Suprematism into three stages: "black," "colored," and "white." The black phase marked the beginnings of the movement, and the 'zero degree' of painting, as exemplified by Black Square. The colored stage, sometimes referred to as Dynamic Suprematism, focused on the use of color and shape to create the sensation of movement in space. This was pursued in depth by Ilya Chasnik, El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko; El Lissitzky was particularly influenced by Malevich and developed his own personal style of Suprematism, which he called 'Proun'. The culmination of Suprematism can be seen in the white stage, exhibited by Malevich during the Tenth State Exhibition: Non-objective Creation and Suprematism in 1919. His masterpiece, White on White (1918), dispensed with form entirely, representing only "the idea." This work provoked responses from other artists that led to new ventures, such as Alexander Rodchenko's Constructivist exploration of the roles of specific materials in his Black on Black series (1919).

Later Developments

As time went on, the movement's spiritual undertones increasingly defined it, and although these put it in jeopardy following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the tolerant attitude of the early Communists ensured that its influence continued. By the late 1920s, however, attitudes had changed, and the movement lost much of its popularity at home, especially after being condemned by the Stalinists (Socialist Realism became the only allowed style). Between 1919 and 1927, Malevich stopped painting altogether to devote himself to his theoretical writings, and following a long hiatus, he even returned to representational painting.

Although Malevich's esoteric concepts prevented the movement itself from gaining widespread appeal, their implications have been far-reaching in the realm of abstract art. Indeed, his desire to create a transcendental art, one that can help viewers reach a higher understanding, is an aspiration one can trace in much later abstract art. It is present in the ideas Wassily Kandinsky outlines in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), as well as the Theosophy-inspired geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian.

The introduction of Suprematism to the West during a 1927 Berlin exhibition was well-received, sparking interest throughout Europe and the United States. Alfred Barr later brought several of Malevich's Suprematist works to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they were included in Cubism and Abstract Art (1936), a groundbreaking exhibition that greatly influenced American modernism. Lissitzky played a key role in the promotion of Suprematism outside of Russia, having previously exhibited Proun works that left a deep impression on László Moholy-Nagy, and possibly even Kandinsky. El Lissitzky later used Suprematist forms and concepts to great effect in graphic design and architecture, which helped to shape the Constructionist movement. Today, these echoes are still seen in contemporary architecture, most famously in the recent "Suprematist" work of Zaha Hadid.

Most Important Art

Suprematism Famous Art

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich
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.
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