Thursday, January 26, 2017

Malevich: The First Abstractionist?


Was the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich the first pure abstractionist? The Impressionists moved toward abstraction by blurring things and taking liberties with the perception of light and figurative forms, while the Cubists took a hammer to representation, shattering and rearranging things into angled, multi-dimensional shards. But Malevich didn't bother with representation of actual objects at all. Beginning around 1913 he introduced a style he called Supremacist, so named because pure form and color would reign supreme over depictions of the world around us. He worked at the time of the Soviet revolution, and the Party leaders at first liked the Supremacist movement because it seemed to disregard the past as irrelevant to the contours of the glorious future. (Revolutionary totalitarians are always big on erasing the past, which is why the Khmer Rouge created a new calendar starting at Year Zero when they took power. Trump's authoritarian take on this maneuver is to conjure a non-existent, mythical past.) Malevich himself was more of a mystical Christian. At any rate, before too long the Soviet leaders decided that abstract art was degenerate and the only acceptable art would be propagandist Social Realist art. Their loss. Does anyone know of earlier pure abstraction?

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