In November 1919, in the midst of the Civil War, Malevich was struggling to survive. He took up a teaching post at the People’s Art School in Vitebsk, founded the previous year by Marc Chagall in a small town in what is now Belarus. Malevich was a charismatic teacher and eagerly promoted the principles of suprematism.
Under Malevich’s guidance, students and teachers formed an artists’ collective called the Champions of New Art, or UNOVIS, adopting the Black Square as their collective signature. This room includes a selection of works by Malevich and other members of the group, who embraced the utopian spirit of the time, aiming to bring suprematism into the street, the workplace and the home.
In June 1922 Malevich returned to Petrograd, where he continued to work with members of UNOVIS. In the following year he was appointed temporary director of the State Institute for Artistic Culture (GINKhUK). However, the situation in Russia was changing. Lenin died in 1924, and within days Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honour. Gradually, Stalin emerged as his successor. Official voices were already speaking out against avant-garde art.
The teaching charts in this room illustrate Malevich’s vision of the development of modern art, as well as Matyushin’s theories on the relationship between colour and sound. They were specially made with text in German for Malevich to take with him to Warsaw and Berlin in March 1927, his only trip abroad. He was given special permission to travel and brought a selection of paintings, manuscripts and architectural models, which were left in Germany when he was summoned home three months later.