Suprematism 1913 – 1918

Term coined in 1915 by Kazimir Malevich for a new system of art, explained in his booklet Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu: Novyy zhivopisnyy realizm (‘From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: the new realism in painting’) The term itself implied the supremacy of this new art in relation to the past Malevich saw it as purely aesthetic and concerned only with form, free from any political or social meaning He stressed the purity of shape, particularly of the square, and he regarded Suprematism as primarily an exploration of visual language comparable to contemporary developments in writing Suprematist paintings were first displayed at the exhibition Poslednyaya futuristicheskaya vystavka kartin: 010 (‘The last Futurist exhibition of paintings: 010’) held in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in December 1915; they comprised geometric forms which appeared to float against a white background While Suprematism began before the Revolution of 1917, its influence, and the influence of Malevich’s radical approach to art, was pervasive in the early Soviet period

Suprematism is an art movement, focused on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines, and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colors It was founded by Kazimir Malevich in Russia, around 1913, and announced in Malevich’s 1915 exhibition, The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 010, in St Petersburg, where he, alongside 13 other artists, exhibited 36 works in a similar style The term suprematism refers to an abstract art based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on visual depiction of objects

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Kazimir Malevich developed the concept of Suprematism when he was already an established painter, having exhibited in the Donkey’s Tail and the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) exhibitions of 1912 with cubo-futurist works The proliferation of new artistic forms in painting, poetry and theatre as well as a revival of interest in the traditional folk art of Russia provided a rich environment in which a Modernist culture was born

Malevich’s Suprematism is fundamentally opposed to the postrevolutionary positions of Constructivism and materialism Constructivism, with its cult of the object, is concerned with utilitarian strategies of adapting art to the principles of functional organization Under Constructivism, the traditional easel painter is transformed into the artist-as-engineer in charge of organizing life in all of its aspects

Malevich also credited the birth of suprematism to Victory Over the Sun, Kruchenykh’s Futurist opera production for which he designed the sets and costumes in 1913 The aim of the artists involved was to break with the usual theater of the past and to use a “clear, pure, logical Russian language” Malevich put this to practice by creating costumes from simple materials and thereby took advantage of geometric shapes Flashing headlights illuminated the figures in such a way that alternating hands, legs or heads disappeared into the darkness The stage curtain was a black square One of the drawings for the backcloth shows a black square divided diagonally into a black and a white triangle Because of the simplicity of these basic forms they were able to signify a new beginning