Kazimir Malevich

Supreme Art: Malevich 100 Years Later

Heike Söns

An exhibition at the Tate Museum in London celebrates the legacy of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, founder of suprematism, one of the major abstract movements of the 20th century.


For many years, the work of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich was banned in the Soviet Union because it was considered “bourgeois”, but his influence managed to spread across Europe and all over the world.

One hundred years later, Europe celebrates the legacy of the founder of suprematism with the exhibition Kazimir Malevich at the Tate Museum, in London from July 16 to October 26, 2014. This unprecedented display will showcase pieces on loan from international collections, including the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Kazimir Malevich
KAZIMIR MALEVICH. Suprematism, 1916-17.

Suprematism emerged in Russia during one of the most critical moments in global history — covering the start of the First World War, the October Revolution and the rise of Stalinism. Founded by Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, this artistic style is, without a doubt, one of the most important abstract art movements of the 20th century. Other artists such as Liubov Popova, El Lissitzky and Aleksandr Rodchenko followed Malevich´s lead and joined the ranks of suprematism.

However, to fully understand the relevance of the legacy of this Russian artist, it is important to put it into context. Known as “suprematists”, the artists who joined Malevich did not follow any other plastic manifestation, didn’t express social issues in their work nor did they adhere to any political movement. Their primary purpose, paradoxical as it may seem, was to not represent anything in their works. The Supremus, as they were known in Russia and later all over Europe, claimed that art is based on pure sensibility, on the sensations that a completely abstract image can convey.

Kazimir Malevich
KAZIMIR MALEVICH. (L) Black Circle, 1915; (R) Black Square, 1923.

The Supremus were very radical in their creations, and believed figurative works did nothing more than mask the essence of art. Although the movement lasted only a couple of decades, it could be said that it laid the groundwork for future developments such as Bauhaus, constructivism and other abstract explorations.

Kazimir Malevich, who claimed that the sensitivity of a work could manifest itself in simple compositions, devoted much of his career to study fundamental geometric shapes. Thus, the his most representative piece – and perhaps of the whole suprematist movement – is Black Circle. As the title implies, this very simple work presents of a black circle drawn on a plain background.

Kazimir Malevich
KAZIMIR MALEVICH. Girls in the Field, 1928.

However, the works from the suprematists — both by Malevich and other artists— became more complex over time. Increasingly more colors were added to their palettes and more figures to their compositions.

Radical and revolutionary, Malevich created an entirely new plastic vocabulary. His work changed the course of art, influencing currents that remain in force today. “There is no artist in the world who has not thought about Black Circle“, says Achim Borchardt-Hume, head of exhibitions at the Tate Museum.

Even though in the past the work of Malevich rarely managed to leave Russia, “he is one of those artists that exert a huge influence on the imagination of other artists, but very few have been able to see his work [personally]” says Borchardt-Hume. This could change after July 16 thanks to this pioneering show— the first major retrospective of his work in almost 25 years— organized by London’s Tate Museum.

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