A native of Vitebsk, Mikhail Kunin (1897 – 1972) received artist training from Yuri (Yehuda) Pen and then attended the People’s Art School from 1919 to 1921, taking classes with Marc Chagall and then Kazimir Malevich. Kunin painted this still life, with its colorful objects during Chagall’s class. Its title, Art of the Commune (1919), is inscribed on the lower left, along with the Russian words for ‘Futurists’ and ‘Leap into the future.’ Ambitious and involved, Kunin was a member of the School’s student executive committee and its Communist Counsel. Although he studied under Malevich, he continued to work in a figurative style, not hesitating to criticize Suprematism and its practitioners, notably for what he said were their nihilism and their tendency to destroy painterly culture.
This work, Cubist Landscape (1919) by Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985) illustrates the artist’s relationship to the Suprematist avant-garde at the time. Its disjointed geometrical shapes and use of heterogenous materials to create texture originated in Cubo-Futurism. One of the steps leading to Suprematism according to Kazimir Malevich’s theory of art, this style privileged movement, fragmented forms and bold colors. In the composition, geometric forms overtake a figure carrying an umbrella in front of Vitebsk School — perhaps a stand-in for the artist, protecting himself from the Suprematist storm. To the left of this figure, in a scene typical of Chagall’s shtetls (a small town with a large Jewish populations), a man with a goat makes a faint appearance. The artist repeats this name endlessly across the canvas, humorously illustrating the gulf between his painterly poetics and the stark Suprematist creations of his rival Malevich, who advocated collective art.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich: The Russian Avant-Garde in Vitebsk, 1918-1922, On View Through January 6th, 2019, at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.
In 1919, Lyubov Popova (1889- 1924) described painting as “Construction,” the building blocks of which were color and line. In this work, Painterly Architectonic (1917), brightly colored, irregularly shaped planes are layered are layered against a neutral background. The curved bottom edge of a grey shape emerging from beneath a red triangle and a white trapezoid suggests three-dimensionality, while the vibrant colors and jutting edges that seem to extend beyond the frame evoke energetic movement. Painterly Architectonic is one of a series of works that Popova created between 1915 and 1919 is response to Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist paintings.
Kazimir Malevich (February 23, 1879 – May 15, 1935) was a Russian painter and art theoretician. He was a pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the avant-garde, Suprematist movement, which he founded in December of 1915.
Suprematism, named thus because Malevich’s new style claimed supremacy over the forms of nature, unveiled a radically new mode of abstract painting that abandoned all reference to the outside world in favor of colored geometric shapes floating against white backgrounds. Since Suprematism rejected the deliberate illusions of representational painting, Malevich saw it as a form of realism — “new painterly realism” was his term — and understood its subject to be the basic components of painting’s language, such as color, line, and brushwork. The basic units of this visual vocabulary were planes, stretched, rotated, and overlapping. For the artist, the white backgrounds against which they were set mapped the boundless space of the ideal.
Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Painting (1916 – 17) is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.