Season 7 Preview: Wolfgang Laib

Season 7 Preview: Wolfgang Laib

 

Ettore Spalletti at GAM

Ettore Spalletti at GAM

 

B. INGRID OLSON – The vases my monitors their frames

B. INGRID OLSON – The vases my monitors their frames

 

Nick Cave: Made by Whites for Whites, at Jack Shainman Gallery

Nick Cave: Made by Whites for Whites, at Jack Shainman Gallery

 

Autumn 2014

Autumn 2014

 

Melanie Smith

Melanie Smith

 

2014 edition opens at Liverpool Biennale

2014 edition opens at Liverpool Biennale

 

Opens fall season with Katharina Grosse, Sol LeWitt, and Walter De Maria

Opens fall season with Katharina Grosse, Sol LeWitt, and Walter De Maria

 

Reopening

Reopening

 

FEATURED ARTIST: Bradford Kessler, Young Grandfather, 2014….

FEATURED ARTIST: Bradford Kessler, Young Grandfather, 2014….

 

Ian Rosen at Kristina Kite

Ian Rosen at Kristina Kite

 

Unidentified Flying Objects, physical evidence and skepticism — Ben Furgal at Space 1026

Unidentified Flying Objects, physical evidence and skepticism — Ben Furgal at Space 1026

 

Planning Social Practice: An Interview with Mary Jane Jacob

Planning Social Practice: An Interview with Mary Jane Jacob

 

Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup

 

John Baldessari

John Baldessari

 

Su-Mei Tse at Tschudi

Su-Mei Tse at Tschudi

 

Nina Beier at David Roberts Art Foundation

Nina Beier at David Roberts Art Foundation

 

Erick Beltrán, interviewed by Rodrigo Ortiz Monasterio

Erick Beltrán, interviewed by Rodrigo Ortiz Monasterio

 

Grande tapisserie. Dominique Ghesquière

Grande tapisserie. Dominique Ghesquière

 

Josef Strau

Josef Strau

 

Europe, Europe

Europe, Europe

 

Hunters & Gatherers in Contemporary Art

Hunters & Gatherers in Contemporary Art

 

Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas

 

Yto Barrada wins the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2015

Yto Barrada wins the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2015

 

Assaf Gruber

Assaf Gruber

 

VOICE: NaturallySpeaking

VOICE: NaturallySpeaking

 

Gerhard Richter at Fondation Beyeler

Gerhard Richter at Fondation Beyeler

 

The Walker Curates the News 09.16.14

The Walker Curates the News 09.16.14

 

FEATURED ARTIST: Bradford Kessler, New Icon, 2014. Hydroflex on…

FEATURED ARTIST: Bradford Kessler, New Icon, 2014. Hydroflex on…

 

Rodney Graham

Rodney Graham

 

Steinar Haga Kristensen at Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius

Steinar Haga Kristensen at Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius

 

Tuesday links

Tuesday links

 

How to build an African concept car in 12 weeks

How to build an African concept car in 12 weeks

 

News post – Clint Jukkala at Brian Morris, taking a “Pulse” at Dilworth, Vox Populi’s intense month of performances, opportunities and more!

News post – Clint Jukkala at Brian Morris, taking a “Pulse” at Dilworth, Vox Populi’s intense month of performances, opportunities and more!

 

Back: Phyllida Barlow

Back: Phyllida Barlow

 

White Rabbit Red Rabbit — Nassim Soleimanpour’s dark allegory at the Fringe Festival

White Rabbit Red Rabbit — Nassim Soleimanpour’s dark allegory at the Fringe Festival

 

The Secret Art Prize at the Curious Duke Gallery

The Secret Art Prize at the Curious Duke Gallery

 

Yaakov Israel: The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art

Yaakov Israel: The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art

 

Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy at Marlborough Monaco

Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy at Marlborough Monaco

 

Was Malevich an absurdist?

Was Malevich an absurdist?


Goncharova/Larionov, Still from
Drama in Cabaret #13, 1914

These events were a wild mix of manifestos, singing and shouting, during which the performers painted each other and the audience, who were sometimes also spat on. These were already Dadaist spectacles of the kind staged three years later, in 1916, by Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janko, at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Malevich admired Goncharova for her crude style of painting Russian peasants, but also for her performances. He, too, would turn up at openings with his face painted, sometimes with a yellow wooden spoon sticking out from his jacket pocket. As late as 1923, at the opening of his own exhibition in Warsaw, he provocatively wore bright purple tights and a purple women’s stocking as a tie around his neck.

At the same time, the poet Velimir Khlebnikov began giving readings – nowadays one would call them performances – during which he recited, shouted and sang his texts, accompanied by wooden spoon percussion, and declared himself Chairman of the Globe (something Hugo Ball would also later do). Khlebnikov, who was the driving force in Moscow at this time and whom, with his pure sound poems, were a role model for Malevich’s own ideas of the non-objective or non-representational, published a series of manifestos with his friend Aleksei Kruchenykh that bore titles like ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste’ and for which Malevich was invited to provide illustrations. In 1913, with the manifesto ‘On Artworks’, he founded Zaum (literally ‘beyond mind’, variously translated as transreason, transration or beyonsense), a movement that aimed to subvert Western pictorial concepts (shaped by a rational relationship between image and reality) by means of elements that elude reason – dreams, the unconscious, illusion, faith and laughter. As Malevich wrote to the composer Mikhail Matyushin during preparations for the staging of his opera Victory Over The Sun: ‘We have now come to reject reason. We have rejected it because another is ripening within us that can, in comparison with that we have rejected, be called zaum and that also constitutes laws and possesses meaning. Only when we have realized this can our works be founded on a truly new, transrational law.”5

Victory Over The Sun, composed by Matyushin, with a libretto Kruchenykh, a prologue by Khlebnikov, and with sets and costumes by Malevich, premiered in 1913. During the piece, the audience was subjected to barely intelligible screaming, deafening sounds, blinding lights and even the spit of individual actors, in a show of absurdity outstripping even the later plays of Samuel Beckett. This raises the question of whether it was actually intended as a tribute to Futurist modern rationalism, as it has often been assumed – or whether it was in fact a parody?

Was Malevich an absurdist?

Lady at the Poster Column, 1914, 71 × 64 cm, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

During the preparations for this spectacle, which can be seen as the high point of the Zaum movement, the motif of the square appeared for the fist time in Malevich’s work, as part of a stage set. Subsequently, monochrome squares of colour appeared in his Zaum paintings, which he also referred to as ‘alogic’ pictures. They include the painting Lady at the Poster Column (1914) in which two squares (yellow and pink) appear against a background of geometrical constructions and letters. But the key work here is the painting Partial Eclipse in Moscow (1914-1915) that includes not only a collaged (but crossed out) newspaper photograph of the Mona Lisa (that icon of Western pictoriality) but also a white square overlaying a black square. This painting from Malevich’s Zaum period is where we must look for the roots of his square – and not, as previously assumed, in his pictures painted in the style of Western Cubism.

Was Malevich an absurdist?

Partial Eclipse in Moscow, 1914-1915

A small drawing from 1915 helps to shed more light on Malevich’s approach. It shows a rectangular outline into which the word ‘derevnja’ (village) is inscribed. Under this figure, Malevich notes that it is better to write the word ‘village’ than to paint a village because the word immediately enables anyone to imagine a village in all its details. The drawing is entitled Alogisme 29: Village. As well as anticipating the conceptual art of the 1960s, it also shows that Malevich did not share the Western modernist view of non-objective – he never used the term ‘abstract’ – pictures as pure abstraction. The possibility of figurative associations was ever-present, and many of Malevich’s ‘suprematist’ paintings have titles to that effect.

Was Malevich an absurdist?

Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions, 1915, 53×53cm, Russian Museum, St Petersburg

The red square on white ground that he painted in 1915 has the full title Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions and not, as the usual abbreviation has it, just ‘Red Square’. Another painting with a black and a red square from the same year is called Painterly Realism of a Boy with a Knapsack – Colour Masses in the Fourth Dimension. Combined with the non-figurative forms, these titles, too, testify to a playfully absurd approach on the part of the artist.

Was Malevich an absurdist?

Suprematist Transformation of a Peasant Girl, 1930–32, 100×75cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Malevich also used the ‘suprematist’ label for his figurative pictures painted after 1928, most of which depict peasant women. It is thus quite simply wrong when, as in almost all exhibitions to date, these paintings are shown separately from the non-objective works. For even during this period Malevich was also painting non-objective pictures, and it is outrageous when, for example the title of the figurative painting Suprematist Transformation of a Peasant Girl is suppressed and the work from 1930-32 is simply labelled as ‘Woman With Rake’, as in most publications and catalogues to date. One can only marvel at the insolence with which mainly Western Malevich scholars ride roughshod over the original titles.

But it is not only the titles that point to an idiosyncratic, at times absurd element. Following the example of Khlebnikov, who invented new words, included mathematical formulas and flouted grammatical rules, Malevich’s texts are full of absurdist neologisms and expressions, images and similes, many of which are lost in the often unsatisfactory translations.

Malevich concluded his artistic output with realistic portraits of his mother, his wife and his daughter. In almost identical style, he had also painted his father – but in 1902 (a picture from the Khardzhiev Collection). Malevich had arrived back at his point of departure. Perhaps this loop, and his re-dating of paintings, can also be understood as an absurd project in itself, intended as a parody of the belief in linear progress.

This view is supported by the fact that Malevich had a long-standing friendship with the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin who, not least inspired by what was going in art, studied the culture of laughter, Russian folk tradition and the Middle Ages, developing his now renowned theory of laughter and parody as a strategy of revolt. To this one can add the little known fact that during his 20 years as director of the State Institute for Artistic Culture in Leningrad, Malevich provided performance space for the artists and writers of the OBERIU group, also known as ‘Absurdists’, who carried on in the Dadaist vein of Goncharova, Larionov and Khlebnikov.

Those involved in these performances included Vladimir Tatlin who in 1923 succeeded in staging Khlebnikov’s Dada play Zangezi at this Institute. Khlebnikov himself was already dead, starved to death while fleeing arrest in 1922. Tatlin’s work, too, is marked by strong Dadaist and absurd elements. Malevich’s friend, the theorist Punin, had already noted this in his 1921 monograph ‘Tatlin (Against Cubism)’.6 The artist Ivan Puni even described Tatlin’s Monument for the Third International (1920/21) as an ‘ideological absurdity’.7 The absurdists who performed at Malevich’s institute really did wish to undermine the credibility of the rapidly spreading, supposedly scientific materialism with their absurd actions. To one of them, the absurdist Daniil Kharms, Malevich gave a copy of his own 1922 treatise ‘God is not defeated’ – which in this context can only be understood as an angry parody on historical materialism’s exclusive claim to truth. The dedication he wrote to Kharms in his book reads: ‘Go forth and hinder progress’.8

When Malevich died in 1935, Kharms read his poem ‘On the Death of Malevich’ at the funeral, a gesture understood by most of those present as a sign of revolt. It was to be the last public appearance by this poet and OBERIU co-founder before he disappeared forever into the prison system.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

1 Natalia Goncharova, exhibition catalogue, Opelvillen, Rüsselsheim, Kunsthalle St. Annen, Angermuseum Erfurt 2010, p. 15.
2 Natalia Goncharova, Manifest 1913, quoted from E. F. Kowtun (ed.), Istorija knižnavo iskusstva (a history of the art of books), Moskow 1989, p. 32.
3 Kasimir Malevich, Suprematismus – die gegenstandslose Welt(Suprematism – the non-objective World), Cologne 1962, p. 99.
4 Ivan Punin, ‘Puti sovremennovo iskusstva i russkaja ikonopis’ (The Paths of Russian Contemporary Art and Icon Painting), in: Apollon, Moskva 1913, Volume 10, p. 50.
5 Letter to Mutjuschin, in: Sieg über die Sonne (Victory Over the Sun), exhibition catalogue, Berlin 1983, p. 39.
6 Cf. Ivan Punin, Tatlin (protiv kubisma) (Tatlin, against Cubism), Petrograd 1921.
7 Ivan Puni, Sovremennaja životopis (Contemporary Art), Berlin (Frenkel’) 1923, p. 31.
8 According to the executor of the Kharms estate, Michael Meylac.

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Somewhere / Em Algum Lugar. Lawrence Weiner

Somewhere / Em Algum Lugar. Lawrence Weiner

 

Mark von Schlegell: Ickles, Etc.—Los Angeles, New York, Berlin launches

Mark von Schlegell: Ickles, Etc.—Los Angeles, New York, Berlin launches

 

Hadley+Maxwell

Hadley+Maxwell

 

Luca Vitone / Katharina Grosse

Luca Vitone / Katharina Grosse

 

Michel Auder and Christian Friedrich

Michel Auder and Christian Friedrich

 

Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914

Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914

 

Ed Atkins

Ed Atkins

 

Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler

 

WHAT’S ON: Flat Neighbors, September 7- October 19, 2014….

WHAT’S ON: Flat Neighbors, September 7- October 19, 2014….

 

The 3:00 Book

The 3:00 Book

 

Jiří Kovanda at Fondazione Morra Greco

Jiří Kovanda at Fondazione Morra Greco

 

Pathways to Interdependence

Pathways to Interdependence

 

WHAT’S ON: Allison Katz: Rumors, Echoes, September 4-…

WHAT’S ON: Allison Katz: Rumors, Echoes, September 4-…

 

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

 

VOICE: A Series of Speculations

VOICE: A Series of Speculations

 

Bananazz

Bananazz

 

Dan Finsel at CAPC Bordeaux

Dan Finsel at CAPC Bordeaux

 

Book review: Ways of Looking. How to Experience Contemporary Art

Book review: Ways of Looking. How to Experience Contemporary Art

 

Untitled (happy place), 2014

Untitled (happy place), 2014

 

A script for Dick. Diego Marcon

A script for Dick. Diego Marcon

 

From the Archives – The Culture of the Copy

From the Archives – The Culture of the Copy

 

Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff