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Suprematism

Taking refuge in the square.

Once in a rare while, a single artwork spawns an entire movement. In 1915, the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich took a white canvas and painted a single, black square in the center. He called it, shockingly, ‘Black Square’.

Since the Futurist explosion in 1909, Mondrian’s dissection of representative art, and Braque and Picasso’s experiments in Cubism, the art world had been spiralling toward some unnamed revelation. Everyone felt it — the very definition of what art is was up for grabs, and artists all over the world were trying to claim the ‘new art.’ And Malevich got there first. In what critics have called ‘the zero point of painting’ Malevich had reduced 2D art to it’s simplest possible form. A surface, with a single mark on it, the art world collectively exclaimed “why didn’t we think of that?”

But Malevich had earned his revelation — an incredibly prolific painter, Malevich had worked across nearly every modern style, from impressionism and pointillism to futurism and cubism, and his distillation of artistic forms was rooted in a nearly manic pursuit of artistic purity. From Black Square, Malevich expanded the vocabulary of his new minimalist style, including the circle as the atomic counterpart to the square, and exploring how these shapes could relate to each other, themselves, and the canvas. Malevich called the reductionist style Suprematism after his belief in the supremacy of artistic feeling over visual representation.

Malevich’s feverish ideals drew a handful of artists to the new style, and in December of 1915, alongside Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, and eleven more painters, Malevich debuted Suprematism at a show titled The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10.

The show attracted more artists, who joined the movement and documented their thinking and in an unpublished journal called Supremus. Malevich himself wrote a book, The Non-Objective World, documenting his ideas. But the world was spinning too quickly for this small, powerful revelation to spark a long-running movement. The horrors of WWI had much of Russia’s artists thinking in more pragmatic terms, using art as a tool for social good in a movement called Constructivism. In 1924, Stalinism gripped Russia and avant-garde artists came under censure. Malevich was arrested and interrogated in 1930, and soon after gave up his suprematist explorations in favor of Socialist Realism the Soviet-sanctioned style.

Pure Suprematism was continued in the work of El Lissitzky and introduced to architecture by Lazar Khidekel. But though the style eventually faded, the influence of its revelation — the zero point — has been felt by every movement that has come after, from minimalism to pure conceptual art, to abstract expressionism. Art would never be able to return to the time before the Black Square.

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Kazimir Malevich

"Art does not need us, and it never did"

1878-1935

Olga Rozanova

The intellectual mother of Abstract Expressionism

1886-1918

Liubov Popova

We shall remake the world

1889-1924

El Lissitzky

Painting symbols of a new world

1890-1941
Black and White, Suprematist Composition

Black and White, Suprematist Composition

Kazimir Malevich1915
Black Square

Black Square

Kazimir Malevich1915
Supremus No.50

Supremus No.50

Kazimir Malevich1915
Black Trapezium and Red Square

Black Trapezium and Red Square

Kazimir Malevich1915
Black Square and Red Square

Black Square and Red Square

Kazimir Malevich1915

Abandon love, abandon aestheticism, abandon the baggage of wisdom, for in the new culture, your wisdom is ridiculous and insignificant. I have untied the knots of wisdom and liberated the consciousness of color!

From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism

Kazimir Malevich1915
Painterly Architectonic

Painterly Architectonic

Liubov Popova1916
Suprematist Composition

Suprematist Composition

Kazimir Malevich1916
Dynamic Suprematism

Dynamic Suprematism

Kazimir Malevich1915-1916
Non-Objective Composition (Flight of an Airplane)

Non-Objective Composition (Flight of an Airplane)

Olga Rozanova1916
Non-Objective Composition

Non-Objective Composition

Olga Rozanova1916
House under construction

House under construction

Kazimir Malevich1915-1916
Painterly Architectonic

Painterly Architectonic

Liubov Popova1917
Composition in Black Gold and Brown

Composition in Black Gold and Brown

Liubov Popova1917
Painterly Architectonics

Painterly Architectonics

Liubov Popova1917
Suprematism

Suprematism

Kazimir Malevich1917
Composition

Composition

Aleksandr Rodchenko1918
Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)

Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)

Aleksandr Rodchenko1918
Linear Composition

Linear Composition

Liubov Popova1919
Composition in Blue Yellow and Black

Composition in Blue Yellow and Black

Liubov Popova1920
Composition in Red Black and Gold

Composition in Red Black and Gold

Liubov Popova1920
Untitled

Untitled

El Lissitzky1919-1920
Line Construction

Line Construction

Aleksandr Rodchenko1920

May the downfall of the old world be etched on the palms of your hands.

A Call to the New Art

Kazimir Malevich1920
Spatial-Force Construction

Spatial-Force Construction

Liubov Popova1921
Space Force Construction

Space Force Construction

Liubov Popova1921
Proun 19D

Proun 19D

El Lissitzky1920-1921
Mystic Suprematism

Mystic Suprematism

Kazimir Malevich1920-1922
Study for Proun S.K.

Study for Proun S.K.

El Lissitzky1922-1923
Kestner Portfolio, Proun 1

Kestner Portfolio, Proun 1

El Lissitzky1923
Kestner Portfolio, Proun 6

Kestner Portfolio, Proun 6

El Lissitzky1923
Kestner Portfolio, Proun 5

Kestner Portfolio, Proun 5

El Lissitzky1923
Kestner Portfolio, Proun 4

Kestner Portfolio, Proun 4

El Lissitzky1923
Kestner Portfolio, Proun 3

Kestner Portfolio, Proun 3

El Lissitzky1923
Kestner Portfolio, Proun 2

Kestner Portfolio, Proun 2

El Lissitzky1923
l.n.31

l.n.31

El Lissitzky1922-1924
Proun 99

Proun 99

El Lissitzky1923-1925