Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich

Work from his oeuvre.

“…In 1911, when Kandinsky speaks in “On the Spiritual in Art” about the reduction of all painterly mimesis, all representation of the world—the reduction that reveals that all paintings are actually combinations of colors and shapes—he wants to guarantee the survival of his vision of painting through all possible future cultural transformations, including even the most revolutionary ones. The world that a painting represents can disappear, but the painting’s own combination of colors and shapes will not. In this sense, Kandinsky believes that all images already created in the past or to be created in the future can also be seen as his own paintings—because regardless of what the images were, are, or could be, they necessarily remain combinations of certain colors and shapes. And that relates not only to painting, but also to all other media including photography and cinema. Kandinsky did not want to create his own individual style, but rather used his paintings as a school for the spectator’s gaze—a school that would allow the spectator to see the invariable components of all possible artistic variations, the repetitive patterns underlying the images of historical change. In this sense, Kandinsky does understand his own art as being timeless.

Later, with the Black Square, Malevich undertakes an even more radical reduction of the image to a pure relationship between image and frame, between contemplated object and field of contemplation, between one and zero. In fact, we cannot escape the black square—whatever image we see is simultaneously the black square. The same can be said about the readymade gesture introduced by Duchamp—whatever we want to exhibit and whatever we see as being exhibited presupposes this gesture.

Even now, one can hear at exhibitions of avant-garde art: “Why should this painting,” let’s say by Malevich, “be here in the museum if my child can do it—and maybe even does?” On the one hand, this reaction to Malevich is, of course, correct. It shows that his works are still experienced by the wider public as weak images, notwithstanding their art-historical celebration. But, on the other hand, the conclusion that the majority of the exhibition visitors draw from this comparison is wrong: one thinks that this comparison discredits Malevich, whereas the comparison could instead be used as a means of admiring one’s child. Indeed, through his work, Malevich opened the door into the sphere of art for weak images—in fact, for all possible weak images. But this opening can be understood only if Malevich’s self-erasure is duly appreciated—if his images are seen as transcendental and not as empirical images. If the visitor to Malevich’s exhibition cannot appreciate the painting of his or her own child, then neither can this visitor truly appreciate the opening of a field of art that allows the paintings of this child to be appreciated…” – Boris Groys for e-flux

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