modernism in art

late impressionism through surrealism

Suprematism & Constructivism

readings (we'll cover Russian Modernism over 2 days, so I've divided the readings up approximately):

• SH essay, Russian Neo-Primitivism: Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov

• SH essay, Kasimir Malevich and Cubo-Futurism

• SH essay, Suprematism, Part I: Kasimir Malevich

• SH video, A new world after the Russian Revolution: Malevich's Suprematist Composition: White on White

• review SH essay, Who created the first abstract artwork?

• SH essay, Suprematism, Part II: El Lissitzky

readings day 2

• review SH essay, Formalism 2: Truth to materials

• SH essay, Constructivism, Part I

• SH essay, Constructivism, Part II

• SH essay, Tatlin's Tower


key terms and concepts: abstraction, near-abstraction, pure-abstraction; painterly abstraction, biomorphic abstraction, geometric abstraction; Communist Revolution (1917); formalism, faktura, tektonika; social agency, propaganda ('agit-prop')

Suprematism was defined by Malevich as follows:

     "Under Suprematism I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist,

     the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is

     feeling, as such ... . Every art work, regardless of how small and insignificant it may seem, originates

      in pictorial or plastic feeling."

How is what Malevich means by 'feeling' different from what Van Gogh or Kirchner meant? Think about the difference between 'sensation' and 'emotion' -- this is what makes Malevich a formalist rather than an expressionist. How did Malevich try to convey sensations through form?  What was the Basic Suprematist Element?  How can it be seen as the starting point or reference point for all of Malevich’s other works?  What kind of sensation was Malevich aiming for in the White on White, below? Be able to analyze the formal choices that he makes in the alignment, colors, compositions, etc. of his works to convey different sensations.  Why did artists such as Malevich see abstract art as having the potential for universal communication, across all cultural, ethnic, and class boundaries?

Russian Constructivism, is similar to Suprematism in its formalism and emphasis on geometry, although it tended more toward 3-D work such as reliefs, sculptures, and installation art, and is remarkable for its use of nontraditional and industrial materials such as wood, sheet metal, and glass.  What was the Constructivist philosophy of faktura and tektonika?  In what sense does the the emphasis on those principles reverse a 400+ year tradition of Western art?  How is Constructivism, like Suprematism, a fundamentally formalist movement?  (Think now about the concept of formalism as exploring and staying ‘true to one’s materials.’)

Why were both Suprematism and Constructivism initially embraced by the Communist Party after the Russian Revolution of 1917? How were they even used for propagandistic purposes (agit-prop)?  This is obvious in the El Lissitzky poster and in Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International below -- but how is it also true of Constructivist sculptures such as the Tatlin Relief?  

Malevich, Suprematist works at the 0,10 exhibition, Suprematism, 1915

Malevich, Suprematist Composition:  White on White, Suprematism, 1918

Tatlin, Relief, Russian Constructivism, 1916

Tatlin, Monument for a Monument to the Third International, Russian Constructivism, 1919

El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with Red Wedge, Suprematism, 1919