Kazimir Malevich was at the forefront of one of the most extraordinary avant-garde movements of the twentieth century. Over a decade or so, a generation of Russian artists created some of the most innovative and astonishing works of their time. The most legendary of these was Malevich’s Black Square, a painting whose uncompromising power has inspired and unsettled viewers for almost a hundred years.
Originating in a unique collaboration between the Stedelijk Museum and the Khardzhiev Foundation in Amsterdam, and the Costakis Collection in Thessaloniki, and involving an unprecedented number of international lenders, this exhibition follows Malevich’s remarkable trajectory. It traces his early development, the collaboration with poets and musicians that led to his conception of a purely abstract art, and the 0.10 exhibition at which he launched what he came to call suprematism. It explores his career after the Revolution as a teacher, his architectural designs, his involvement in the collective UNOVIS, and his return to painting in Stalin’s Russia.
Malevich’s career as an artist spanned an era of political upheaval that transformed Russia. When he started painting, Russia was an autocratic state ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. Eighty percent of the population were classed as peasants. While some modernisers looked to Europe to create an industrialised, more democratic society, others insisted on finding a more authentically Russian path. In 1905, the massacre of a group of demonstrators in St Petersburg provoked a violent series of revolts. Malevich himself described taking part in the Moscow uprising. The 1905 Revolution led to limited constitutional reforms, including the establishment of a parliament. But underlying tensions remained, which would soon reach breaking point.