Arts Gallery


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 [2003].

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, 2003 (AP)

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
(AP Photo)

"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 market.

Jettisoning traditional ideas about perspective, color, form and logic, Malevich painted and drew pure, simple forms and geometric patterns on neutral backgrounds.

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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