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5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting examination of an artist's changing styles, 19 Mar 2014
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Malevich (Great Modern Masters) (Hardcover)
Kazimir Malevich, 1878-1935, was a founder of the Russian avant-garde movement, Suprematism, that can be thought of as a radical form of abstraction. He is, perhaps, best known for creating several versions of his painting, “Black Square”, 1915, considered to be a ‘totally bare icon without a frame’. When it was originally exhibited, it was hung at an angle and placed in a corner, which was seen as a sacred niche.

Because of such works, his involvement with Futurist poets in ‘Zaum’ – a theoretical language that denied all attempts at logical expression, and his role in the political administration of art that followed the Russian Revolution, Malevich has often been considered to be a ‘difficult’ artist to appreciate. All the more reason for this book, published in 1995 in a translation from the Spanish by Alberto Curotto, to be included in the Abrams’ Great Modern Masters series to introduce readers to Malevich, his work and his ideas. A key feature of this book is its inclusion of early paintings and works from different periods thereafter so that his artistic development can be better assessed.

The book contains two brief illustrated essays, ‘Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde’ that is subdivided into ‘The Specifics of Painting’, ‘An Experimental Art’, ‘Ground Zero’ and ‘’The Return to Order’’, and ‘Kazemir Malevich 1878-1935’ subdivided into ‘In the Avant-Garde’, Cubo-Futurism’, ‘Suprematist Abstraction’ and ‘Under the Black Square’.

There are 68 illustrations, including 53 full-page colour plates that range from “Portrait of a Member of the Artist’s Family”, 1906, to “Self-Portrait” and “The Worker”, both from 1933. The plates are presented chronologically within themes addressing ‘Cézanne and Neo-Primitivism’, which contains 11 works; ‘Cubism, Futurism and Zaum’, 10; ‘The Face of Time’. 13; ‘A Suprematist Mold’, 2; ‘Revising the Origins’, and 4; ‘Post-Suprematist Figurative Works’, 13. Each theme is introduced by a brief commentary and the individual works are accompanied by a description. There is also a List of Plates and a brief Selected Bibliography.

In the early decades of the 20th-century, three leading avant-garde artists pushed forward the boundaries of Modernism, Tatlin who led the Constructivist movement, Kandinsky, who developed highly spiritual imagery following on from 19th-century Romanticism, and somewhere between these two poles, Malevich. Until 1910, the artist’s work was influenced by Seurat and the Nabis, and by Russian folk art and icons, as in “Study for a Fresco”, and “Study for a Fresco (Self-Portrait)”, both 1907. “The Leisure of High Society”, 1908, reveals the artist’s irony and, surprisingly, his humour. By 1911, “Bather” shows the distortion of the figure and the non-natural colours of the Fauves. “Peasant Woman with Buckets and a Child”, 1912, and “Peasant Woman with Water Pails”, 1912-13, reveal the artist’s transition from figuration to abstraction, the latter being even more evident in “Head of a Peasant Woman”, “Portrait of Ivan Kliun” and “Knife Grinder”, all 1912-13. “Private of the First Division” and “Partial Eclipse with Mona Lisa”, both 1914, incorporate collage whilst “An Englishman in Moscow” and “The Aviator”, both 1914, reveal the visual representation of zaum.

Malevich’s “Black Square” was developed into “Black Circle” and “Black Cross”, 1923-29, into “Red Square”, 1915, and polychromic Suprematist works, such as “Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying” and “Suprematism”, both 1915, and “Supremus No. 56” and “Suprematist Painting”, both 1916. In 1918, Malevich announced the death of easel painting and developed 3-dimensional architechtonic works such as “Drop”, c. 1923, “Beta”, before 1926, and “Zee”, 1923-27. Following his only journey to the West, the artist returned to a series of works influenced by Post-Impressionism and the Nabis, “Unemployed Girl” and the Fauves, “Woman in a Yellow Hat”, both copied after 1928.

The political dead hand of Socialist Realism silenced the Russian avant-garde movement in the 1930s and the artist incorporated many styles in the works of his final years [“Head of a Peasant” and “Peasant in a Field”, both c. 1928-30, “The Red Cavalry”, 1930-31, “Portrait of a Woman”, 1928-32, the naturalist “The Worker” and “Self-Portrait”, both 1933, and “Girl with an Ornamental Comb”, 1932-33, which is reproduced on the front jacket cover].

Initially I thought that the introductory texts were too short; however, the complexity of the different early 20th-century Russian art movements, their transformations and the increasing political control on state art means that longer and more detailed text might have been intimidating for the general reader.

This is a very good introduction to a challenging artist.
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Malevich (Great Modern Masters)
Malevich (Great Modern Masters) by Jose Maria Faerna (Hardcover - 1 Sep 1996)
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