Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Tate Modern's Matisse and Malevich: More Connected Than You Might Think . . .

Matisse at Tate Modern closes on Sunday 07 September All-nighters for the final weekend + extra late nights have just been added. A reminder of the normal opening hours: 10.00–18.00, Sunday–Thursday; 10.00–22.00, Friday–Saturday

Adult £18 (without donation £16.30); Conc £16 (without donation £14.50); Children under 12 free.

The Cut-Outs (Level 2) perhaps more than anything else demonstrate the extraordinary way Matisse was able to combine 'there' and 'not there' to make the whole – creating spatial perfection in the process.



Hard on the heels of the Matisse exhibition comes Kazimir Malevich (Level 3), a painter who as a young man knew the work of Matisse first hand. Malevich was born in Kiev but by the time he was 25 he had arrived in Moscow.

Russia was still under the rule of tsar Nicholas II and Moscow trading with the world. With other art lovers, the young Malevich would have spent his Sundays in Petrovka Street, Volkhonka Street or similar, the day when Moscow’s industrialists opened up their great houses and palaces. Two of the greatest collectors of Modern European Art, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, were Muscovites. Malevich would have feasted his eyes on Monet, Cézanne, Picasso and Derain, as well as Matisse. Shchukin indeed was one of the earliest and greatest of Matisse’s patrons, owning or commissioning 37 of the artist’s works. In addition, Moscow, as an international city, regularly mounted exhibitions where Malevich would have seen the works of Van Gogh and Gauguin – as well as, again, Matisse.

Everyone who sees the work of these great painters is changed by them. Malevich was. But almost from the start he wrought his own way of seeing. His early figurative work – self-portraits, landscapes, peasant workers, religious themes
already painted in his distinctive way, started to become more abstract. It is a progression this exhibition, thanks to generous loans from all over the world, is able to show superbly.

Look at his Morning in the Village After Snowstorm, 1912 (below), lent by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.


Kazimir Malevich
Morning in the Village after Snowstorm 1912
© Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Tate Modern
You can almost feel the rhythm of the trudging steps as the two figures make their way uphill, the settled snow sucking on their boots. Overnight, the entire scene has become transformed beautifully from the warm village scene of the day before by the snowfall. And here is, in this reviewer's opinion, one of Malevich’s first essays into the geometrically precise world of the 3-dimensional lattice, an analysis of the physical world deeper I think than any that had gone before.This way of seeing should have anyone who works spatially at whatever scale queuing at the door to view the delights the 12 galleries devoted to his work contain.


To make the most of a big retrospective exhibition like this one you need to evolve a reasonably efficient way of viewing it. My own method is to walk from Room One right through to Room Twelve, taking in a “snapshot view” as I go. I might then sit down and skim through the mini catalogue given out when you present your ticket. It briefly but comprehensively – and with key works illustrated – takes you chronologically through the works exhibited. With the basics grasped, you’re then free to examine the works that struck you on your first promenade as well as the other works more closely so that you can make your own connections.
Malevich witnessed the Moscow Uprising, the October Revolution and the outbreak of World War 1. As he worked through his feelings about what was going on around him, he started to use the term suprematist to describe work that reflected his attempt to make an art that represented reality in its own right. Check out Supremacy of the Spirit, c.1920, Mystic Suprematism, 1920–22, both lent by Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, and, purchased for the Tate’s permanent collection in 1978, Dynamic Suprematism Supremus, 1915–16. The titles alone give you some idea of the artist's state of mind as he bore witness to the cataclysmic events going on around him. The paintings themselves represent no less than a transformation of what we think of as reality. 

Malevich's work is held in museums and galleries all over the world: to have them together here in London is a huge privilege. I am going to end this review by attempting to analyse one painting, his Black Square (below). Who knows whether the title and the colour chosen (the very opposite of 'red') is the artist's attempt to address those at the ancient centre of Russia's imperialist and post-imperialist rule. Black Square was first painted in 1915, although the artist was quick to point out that the idea came to him some two years earlier when he was designing his theatre piece Victory over the Sun, a collaboration with the poet Kruchenykh and the composer Matyushin.* Black Square was repeated in 1923 and again in 1929. The painting disappeared after the painter’s death in 1935, hidden away lest it offend the new State’s official cultural doctrine of Socialist Realism. It took almost 50 years to emerge and here it is.

At first glance the painting may be seen as a black square sitting on a white ground. Look longer. As enlightened artists and scientists continue to discover, it portrays a black square in interaction on all sides with the ground it stands on.



Kazimir Malevich
Black Square 1925
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Courtesy the Tretyakov and Tate Modern

Ticket prices for Malevich: Adult £14.50 (without donation £13.10); conc £12.50 (without donation £11.30); free for children under 12; opening hours as above. 
National Art Pass
Malevich Talks and Lectures

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