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>> Malevich and the Bolsheviks
>> Everything and Nearly Nothing: Malevich and His Effects
>> Russian Berlin in the Nineteen-Twenties
>> Deutsche Bank and the German-Russian Cultural Exchange

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Everything and Nearly Nothing:
Malevich and His Effects


Images of nothingness, of the sublime something, and of an ominous everything: incontestably, Kasimir Malevich counts among the pioneers of non-objective art. His Black Square has become an icon of modernism. Yet what was his influence on generations of post-war European and American artists? Ira Mazzoni has set about answering this question and introduces exponents from the collection of the Deutsche Bank.

With his Black Square on a White Ground from 1915, Malevich marked the “zero point of painting” and philosophized over the “experience of pure non-objectivity in the white emptiness of a liberated nothing.” A short time later, in 1918, he presented a White Square on a White Ground, which employed the refinement of impasto to push the image’s emptiness to the limits of painting and of perception. In response to the monochrome painting in the Great Berlin Art Exhibition of 1927, the critic Ernst Kallai had “difficulty imagining what could still be possible in painting beyond this point: a surface, white on white…”

There was still a lot that was possible. It almost seemed as though Malevich had created a black hole with his paintings that devoured modern art and then gave birth to new universes. After Malevich, paintings were “purified” and “emptied.” Painters pursued art “as such,” reducing their paintings to pure color or geometric form and stripping them down to their fundaments: the painted surface and the support. Archetypes were conjured up and final images painted once more. There were images of nothingness, of a sublime something, and an ominous everything. Painting became ontological and philosophical, entirely material or entirely spiritual. For a long time, this revolutionary attitude continued to determine the explicitly “modern” artist’s identity, at least until the new began seeming impossible because everything had already been said or shown before.



Ellsworth Kelly, Orange (State I), 1988
© Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

  

Donald Judd, Untitled (Blue), from
the portfolio "For Joseph Beuys," 1986
Collection of the Deutsche Bank


On the occasion of the Malevich exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1972, the minimalist Donald Judd wrote: “Today, it’s clear that form and color appeared for the first time in the forms and colors of the paintings Malevich began painting in 1915… within the framework that Malevich laid down, new works and controversies continue to arise to this day.



Donald Judd, Untitled 1993

When we address the question of Malevich and the effects he had, we are dealing with this framework. A scientifically based history of reception for the neo-avant-garde movements in America and Europe has yet to be written. One might suppose that the promotion of Malevich’s work was relatively complicated and that it was only perceived some time later in the West. It is surprising indeed to come across what Imi Knoebel reported of his student years in Düsseldorf in the early sixties: “There was this book that came out back then – The Non-Objective World by Malevich, his texts. We were fascinated by the Black Square. It was a phenomenon that drew us in completely; it became a real turning point. We took this knowledge and went on the road with Malevich. Nobody knew who he was.” At this point in time, however, Europe and America’s abstract painters had already interpreted Malevich from every possible angle and had drawn their conclusions. So what was left?



Blinky Palermo, Four Prototypes (four parts), 1970
Collection of the Deutsche Bank



  

Blinky Palermo, Untitled, from the
portfolio "Homage to Picasso," 1974
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

In 1964, Blinky Palermo painted his Composition with Eight Rectangles, his first geometric painting. At first it seemed as though the student was just trying his hand at abstraction. His Prototypes, as well, seem like childish illustrations next to Malevich’s fundamental work. The colorful naiveté of Palermo’s triangles and circles are confusing. They are certainly not ideal forms, nor do they seek to express anything. But it’s not a matter of calculation here, of de-individualized, concrete geometry: the brushstroke is too fresh, too cheeky.



Blinky Palermo, Untitled, 1973
Collection of the Deutsche Bank
  

Blinky Palermo, Four Prototypes (four parts), 1970
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

The photograph of Malevich’s Suprematist Room in the legendary exhibition 0.10 in Petrograd also had an effect. Here, not only the modernist icon, the Black Square, was hanging all the way up in the corner of the room, but there were whole squadrons of squares, crosses, stretched and warped rectangles hovering and flying across the white walls. Rediscovering Malevich also meant rethinking the relationship between the painting and the wall, form and space. And it meant appreciating the tonal values of color again following years of painterly abstinence and minimalist renunciation of the brushstroke and of sensuousness in general.



Imi Knoebel, Grace Kelly (portfolio
with 5 sheets), 1990
© Galerie Achim Kubinski, Berlin
Collection of the Deutsche Bank
  

Imi Knoebel, Grace Kelly (portfolio
with 5 sheets), 1990
© Galerie Achim Kubinski, Berlin
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

And Imi Knoebel? How did he react to the incontrovertibility of Malevich’s suprematist paintings? He started at the beginning, first painting vertical lines on the empty surface. He countered the absolute with the plain and simple. In the process, he became fascinated by Malevich’s cosmic dimension: light projections in the night sky followed, signalizing a flight from the painted canvas.



Imi Knoebel, Small Russian Wall, from
"Russian Wall" (portfolio with 8 sheets), 1988
© Galerie Sabine Knust, München
Collection of the Deutsche Bank
  

Imi Knoebel, Large Russian Wall, from
"Russian Wall" (portfolio with 8 sheets), 1988
© Galerie Sabine Knust, München
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

After returning to the material of paint, Knoebel tilted monochrome rectangles out of their axes and hung them diagonally on the walls of the white cube. There it was again, this condition of floating in space. Out of constellations such as these, Knoebel developed warped rectangles in “a state of arousal,” and beginning in 1976, he produced his Menningebilder, paintings that comprise both a new beginning and a continued development at one and the same time. Menninge is an industrial rustproof paint, a base layer and not a traditional painting pigment. The geometric forms that came about in this way were fit together to produce many-edged shapes, complex polygonal masses in which the viewer attempts to discern the boundaries between individual forms. And yet these cut out combinations comprise more than just a picture puzzle. Arranged in a Russian hanging, a room-sized, floating ambivalence immediately becomes palpable.



Imi Knoebel, Black Cross, from "Russian
Wall" (portfolio with 8 sheets), 1988
© Galerie Sabine Knust, München
Collection of the Deutsche Bank
  

Imi Knoebel, White Cross, from "Russian
Wall" (portfolio with 8 sheets), 1988
© Galerie Sabine Knust, München
Collection of the Deutsche Bank





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