"The cinema is cruel like a miracle." -Frank O'Hara

A Square Supreme: Malevich and the American Legacy

Even without the Americans, the Kazimir Malevich show at Gagosian Gallery would be an event. The show features an impressive six paintings, four of which are superb examples of the Suprematism, the movement Malevich founded and that would become a linchpin of abstraction in the twentieth century. In all likelihood, audiences will never have a chance to see these pieces together again, because they reside with the heirs of the Malevich estate and in museum collections. They are emphatic and self-sufficient, claiming the wall allotted to them in the gallery despite their diminutive size and declaring themselves irrefutably present. They do not need external validation nor a litmus test of their influence, because their influence is everywhere.

The Gagosian show has the salutary effect of placing examples of American minimalism in apposition to Malevich’s truly formidable vision. It’s up to the Americans to prove themselves worthy of the Russian master, and most do, though sometimes that lineage is muddled. Though Malevich flipped the switch on painting as early as 1915 with the revolutionary Black Square, the gravitas of his formal composition was not felt in America until 1973 when the Guggenheim mounted a retrospective. The Americans were late to feel the full impact of Suprematism from Malevich’s mouth, but received it as hearsay from numerous European sources, most notably Mondrian.

Donald Judd, art-reviewer, recognized Malevich as ground zero for abstraction, writing “It’s obvious now that the forms and colors in the paintings that Malevich began painting in 1915 are the first instances of form and color.” For Malevich, art was about two things: the square and the void. Every other form derived from the square, which was an absolute construction that was for him, commensurate to “pure feeling”. I saw it yesterday and I’m still very far from being able to think intelligently about it — the show is very difficult, and despite its relatively small size, there’s still far too much there. I like to think of myself as a little bit capable of looking at art, but an exhibit like this could probably retrain anyone’s eye.

Malevich wrote several articles on film and briefly worked with Hans Richter on a non-objectivist piece for the cinema. He spoke of the “missed encounter” between film and art, and saw infinite potential in the medium.

Category: art + video, design

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