Room 8 The End of Painting

Strikes and food riots in February 1917 led to the collapse of the old regime, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and months of turmoil as the Provisional Government struggled to maintain order. In October, the Bolsheviks seized power, promising an end to the war with Germany, but also soon finding themselves embroiled in a brutal Civil War.

Avant-garde artists greeted the Revolution enthusiastically, seeing the political transformation of society as a parallel to their own radical transformation of art. Yet there was also an intense questioning of the purpose of art in an egalitarian new society.

In the following months, Malevich enacted a gradual dissolution of painting before abandoning it altogether. The intricate compositions of scattered elements gave way to simpler forms and single planes of colour that seem to soften at the edge. In some works colour fades away entirely. These white forms against a white background represented a final liberation from the world of visible forms. ‘Painting died, like the old regime, because it was an organic part of it’, Malevich wrote in 1919.

He now saw suprematism as a means to transform everyday life. In the 1920s, as part of that project, he designed architectons – model buildings without a specified purpose or setting that can be seen as imaginative proposals for what a suprematist architecture might look like.