The Russia Journal Daily, The Associated Press, New York, May 23, 2003
NEW YORK - Kazimir Malevich was an eccentric, controversial artist whose
nonrepresentational paintings and drawings broke boundaries and set new
standards for early 20th-century Russian avant-garde.
His notorious "White on White" composition was so radical that museums
weren't sure how to hang it, since it lacked any obvious top or bottom.
Now, 90 of his works - paintings, drawings, architectural models and
porcelain cups - are on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum through
Sept. 7 .
Questions about the provenance of some of the paintings have dogged the
exhibition, which drew a record 70,000 visitors to the Deutsche Guggenheim
in Berlin before coming to New York City, according to organizers. The last
stop of the traveling show is the Menil Collection in Houston, where it will
be on view from Oct. 3 to Jan. 11, 2004.
Kazimir Malevich's 1915 oil on canvas titled, 'Pictorial Realism of a
Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions, Called Red Square,' is seen in this undated
publicity photo. The painting is among 90 works by the Russian artist on
display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through Sept. 7,
The New York Times reported March 31 that Malevich works collected by
Nikolai Khardzhiev, an elderly Russian art collector who emigrated to
Amsterdam 1993 from Moscow, were obtained deceitfully by European dealers at
bargain prices, and then sold for enormous profits.
Owners of Galerie Gmurzynska in Cologne, Germany, named in the story, took
out a full-page ad May 5 in the Times to deny misappropriating Malevich
works. They insisted the works were obtained from Khardzhiev "at fair market
value at the time."
Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens acknowledged being "a little bit dismayed"
by the controversy over the ownership history.
"Study for the Decor of Victory over the Sun, Act 2,
Scene 5," 1913, by Kazimir Malevich
"In putting together this exhibit, we exercised due diligence on the
ownership," Krens told journalists at a preview of the show. "To the degree
that all works in the exhibition met that test, we stand behind them."
Curator Matthew Drutt said the exhibit encompasses 42 drawings, 38 paintings
and 10 objects, including models of skyscrapers and porcelain tea cups. The
bulk of the works had never been put on public display in the West before
the Berlin debut, including several recently discovered masterpieces.
Some of the works were loaned by state museums in St. Petersburg and
elsewhere in Russia. More than a third are from holdings of the Stedelijk
Museum of Amsterdam, and 15 are credited to "private collection, courtesy
Galerie Gmurzynska Zug." French, Japanese and American museums also loaned
works. Malevich's oils command as much as $15 million apiece in today's
Jettisoning traditional ideas about perspective, color, form and logic,
Malevich painted and drew pure, simple forms and geometric patterns on
His declared goal was an art style of elemental figures with a universal
appeal. The straightforward titles underline his style: "Four Squares,"
"Black Cross," "Extended Square," "Elongated Plane."
If the Russian public didn't necessarily grasp what he was up to, other
European artists were enchanted by the possibilities of his concept.
Experimental styles of the time couldn't encompass his iconoclastic oils and
drawings, so Malevich conceived a whole new form of abstract art, which he
called suprematism, or the new painterly realism.
"The artist has liberated himself from all ideas, images, notions, all
objects arising from them and the entire structure of didactic life,"
Malevich proclaimed when he introduced his nonobjective, geometric paintings
in Petrograd in 1915.
Better-known contemporaries, Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, undertook
similar experiments in abstraction, filling their canvasses with geometric
shapes, patterns of lines and bold colors. It was art for a new millennium
of the 20th century - utilitarian, secular and mechanical - yet aspiring to
stir the highest spiritual feelings in beholders.
Some of Malevich's oils and drawings have an almost ethereal quality
conveyed by soft edges on one side of a form that seemingly dissolve into
the background. Others bear no resemblance to normal reality.
His 1915 oil on canvas, "Pictorial Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two
Dimensions, Called Red Square," doesn't represent the celebrated landmark in
Moscow. Instead, the four-cornered red shape on a neutral background is a
woman rendered in nonrepresentational style.
By the 1920s, Malevich was willing to convey a more traditional female
resemblance in a painting. His 1928-29 oil on canvas, "Suprematism: Female
Figure," shows a head, neck, armless torso, legs and boots - like a
dressmaker's dummy in black against pale background.
After the revolution brought the Soviets to power, Malevich enjoyed a long
period of favor with the Communist regime. He was even allowed to travel
abroad to show his works. But his friendship with German avant-garde figures
ultimately caused his arrest. He died out of favor in 1935.
The Russia Journal, Moscow, May 23, 2003, AP Story, New York
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