- Kazimir Malevich
- Mystic Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval)
- Oil on canvas
- 39 1/2 by 23 1/2 in.
- 100.2 by 59.2 cm
Thence by descent to the artist's heirs
Berlin, Lehrter Bahnhof, Große Berliner Kunstausstellung, 1927
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, First Showing of the Malevich Collection, 1958 (located in the museum until 2008)
Braunschweig, Kunstverein, Haus Salve Hospes, Malevich, 1958, no. 30
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Malevich, 1958, no. 30
Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, Malevich, Pougny, Lissitzky & Mansurov, 1959, no. 30
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna; London, Whitechapel Gallery & Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum, Malevich, 1959, no. 30 (no. 29 in London)
Ulm, Ulmer Museum, Malevich, 1961
Linz, Neue Galerie der Stadt & Vienna, Galerie Würthle, Malevich, 1961-62, no. 21, illustrated on the cover
Leverkusen, Städtisches Museum & Winterthur, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Malevich, 1962, no. 21, illustrated on the cover
Hannover, Kunstverein Hannover, Die zwanziger Jahre in Hannover, 1962, no. 19
Bern, Kunsthalle, Malevich, Duchamp, Kandinsky, 1964, no. 19
Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Konstruktive Malerei 1915-1930, 1966-67, no. 12
Leningrad, Russian Museum; Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery & Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Kazimir Malevich, 1988-89, no. 65, illustrated in the catalogue and featured in an in situ photograph
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline, 1996, no. 30
Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Malévitch. Un choix dans les collections du Stedelijk Museum d’Amsterdam, 2003, no. 24, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum & Houston, The Menil Collection, Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism, 2003-2004, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Malevich in Focus: 1912-1922, 2010
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Geometry of Kandinsky and
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Malevich and the American Legacy, 2011, illustrated in color in the catalogue and featured in an in situ photograph (as dating from 1920-27)
Jean-Claude Marcadé, Malevitch, Paris, 1990, no. 219, illustrated in color p. 149 (as dating from the 1920s)
Evgenia Petrova & Joel Joosten, Malevich: Khudozhnik i teoretik, Sovetskii
Khudozhnik, 1990, illustrated p. 129, featured in an in situ photograph p. 17
Rainer Crone & David Moos, Kazimir Malevich, The Climax of Disclosure, Chicago, 1991, featured in an in situ photograph p. 204
Elena Basner & Evgenija Petrova, Kazimir Malevig, Florence, 1993,
illustrated p. 38 and featured in an in situ photograph p. 47
Elena Basner & Evgenija Petrova, Malevich: Collecion del Museo Estatal Ruso, Madrid, 1993, featured in an in situ photograph p. 95
Dmitri Sarabianov & Alexandra Shatskikh, Kazimir Malevich: Zhivopis ’ Teoriya, Moscow, 1993, no. 174, illustrated
Kazimir Malevic, una retrospettiva (exhibition catalogue), Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, 1993, illustrated in color p. 38
Elena Basner & Evgenija Petrova, Kazimir Malevich in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, 2000, featured in an in situ photograph p. 439
Georgio Cortenova & Evgenia Petrova, Kazimir Malevich e le sacre icone Russe, Milan, 2000, featured in an in situ photograph p. 114
Gilles Neret, Kazimir Malevich: 1878-1935 and Suprematism, Cologne, 2003, illustrated p. 62
Claudia Zevi & Evgenia Petrova, Kazimir Malevic: oltre la figurazione, oltre
Vastrazione, Milan, 2005, featured in an in situ photograph p. 191
Andréi Nakov, Kazimir Malewicz, Catalogue Raisonné, Paris, 2002, no. S-613, illustrated p. 315 (reversed illustration; as dating from 1920-22)
Andréi Nakov, Painting the Absolute, Farnham, 2010, vol. II, illustrated in color p. 397
Suprematist painting, Malevich explained, was a universal art that was immediately accessible, unmistakably clear and "supreme" in its aesthetic intentions. "Color and texture in painting are ends in themselves," Malevich wrote in his 1915-16 treatise, The Suprematist Manifesto. "They are the essence of painting, but this essence has always been destroyed by the subject." Suprematism was rooted in Malevich's desire to move beyond traditional representation towards an art of pure color and geometric form. While this radical idea had its origins in Cubism and Futurism, Suprematism proposed something wholly new in that it rejected any subjective basis or thematic origin. Malevich's opposition to traditional modes of representation was absolute: "If all the masters of the Renaissance had discovered the surface of painting, it would have been much more exalted and valuable than any Madonna or Mona Lisa. And any carved-out pentagon or hexagon would have been a greater work of sculpture than the Venus de Milo or David" (K. Malevich, "From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. The New Realism in Painting," 1915-16, reprinted in C. Harrison and P. Wood, eds., Art in Theory, 1900-1990, London, 1991, p. 175).
The genesis of Suprematist painting was preceded by Malevich's experiences as a young artist of the fledgling Russian avant-garde. In 1907, he took part in the exhibition organized by the Association of Moscow Artists with notables such as Kandinsky and Mikhail Larionov, and was later invited by Larionov to join the newly formed exhibition group, Target, in 1913. Target was influenced by Cubist and Futurist art, and also incorporated Larionov's new, almost non-objective concept named Rayism (Luchizm) which appealed to Malevich's proto-Suprematist sensibilities. After the demise of Target around 1914, Malevich became a leading member of the Russian Futurist group of artists, writers and poets, and began taking bolder steps with his painting. By the spring and summer of 1915, he finally discarded all reference to figuration in favor of colored, unadorned geometric shapes on a white background and painted strikingly reductive compositions. The artist wrote a lengthy treatise about these paintings entitled "From Cubism to Suprematism in Art" to accompany the exhibition "The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings: 0.10" in Petrograd. The "Suprematist Manifesto," as this text is commonly known, was later reprinted in Moscow in 1916 and titled "From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. The New Realism in Painting." In it, Malevich described his vision of art in the age of modernity: "The artist can be creator only when forms in his picture have nothing in common with nature. For art is the ability to construct, not on the interrelation of form and colour, and not on an aesthetic basis of beauty in composition, but on the basis of weight, speed and the direction of movement. Forms must be given life and the right to individual existence" (K. Malevich, op. cit., p. 175).
Mystic Suprematism dates from 1920-22, at which point Malevich had moved away from the colorful constellations of shapes that had filled his canvases at the beginning of this movement. One of his first compositions to this end was his 1915 Black Square, in which a black plane takes the form of a square, adrift in space and at an oblique angle to the picture plane. Over the next few years Malevich considered the consequences of color and form in perpetual motion, as they were propelled apart by the forces of universal energy or 'cosmic diffusion.' The borders of his color forms now dissolved into the white background, or the forms themselves completely disappeared as they broke and drifted apart with relentless entropy into the abyss. He pushed this premise even further in 1918 in his colorless composition White on White and then, to extreme effect, in 1920 with his exhibition of entirely blank canvases. "There can be no speaking of painting in Suprematism," he wrote that year. "Painting was exhausted long ago, and the artist himself is a bias of the past" (quoted in Aleksandra Shatskikh, op. cit., p. 182).
Mystic Suprematist is a dramatic exploration of this cosmic destruction and dissolution in progress. In her essay for the 2011 exhibition catalogue, Aleksandra Shatskihk describes how the artist interpreted this force with his 1915 canvas, Black Cross: "Under the pressure of energetic tension, the square splits in half, and the resulting two broad posed shift upward and downward and then, spinning toward each other and intersecting at right angles, are fixed in a cruciform structure." Mystic Suprematism, created over five years later, takes this notion to a new extreme. The cruciform is approached as a purely plastic object, vulnerable to the forces of the universe. Entirely divorced from any religious connotations, this image was Malevich's radical expression of form at its most elemental. Instead of presenting a dislodged plane of nothingness adrift in space, Malevich breaks apart his black square and arranges the fragments in linear opposition against the red oval. The image appears aloft, rising towards the top edge of the canvas as it is propelled into oblivion.
Malevich's text stated his exaltation for non-objective art (in no uncertain terms). In the recent retrospective on the artist's work, Matthew Druitt emphasized the cataclysmic impact that the artist hoped his new aesthetic would have on the future of painting: "With the single-mindedness of a missionary or a prophet, Malevich spent nearly fifteen years of his career espousing the aesthetic and moral superiority of a system of abstract art he termed Suprematism. A complete departure from any pictorial method theretofore recognized in art, Suprematism was characterized by Malevich as 'that end and beginning where sensations are uncovered, where art emerges "as such."' He adopted many guises in the service of this new art, from teacher and administrator to theorist and aesthete, all fashioned to bring about a sea of change in the way people thought about art and its impact upon the world around them" (M. Druitt, Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism, op. cit., p. 17).
Unlike the Russian-born artists Soutine and Chagall who left their native country in search of artistic inspiration in France, Malevich remained in Russia during the critical period of transformation and revolution and was a key figure in the revival of Russian art and culture during this period. Born in the Ukraine in 1878, he studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1905 and remained in that city throughout the 1910s. His early paintings from 1910-13 were not without reference to the French avant-garde, and incorporated a variation of the Cubist aesthetic made popular by Picasso and Braque. But as his painting developed, Malevich began reinterpreting the styles of Cubism, as well as Italian Futurism, and devised an artistic philosophy that was decidedly his own. His Suprematist paintings revered the beauty of speed that had been championed by Futurism and Cubism's fragmenting of objects. In contrast to these two movements, Suprematism rejected the idea of objective representation and eliminated any references to nature. "I have transformed myself in the zero of form and dragged myself out of the rubbish filled pool of Academic art...." (K. Malevich, op. cit., p. 166). This was the credo that governed Malevich's compositions of this era, and would later be regarded as one of the most radical pronouncements of early twentieth century artistic theory.
The international breakthrough of Malevich's career did not occur until the seminal 1927 exhibition, Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung, in which Suprematist Composition was featured alongside seventy other of the artist's works. According to Matthew Drutt, "No other Russian artist, not even Kandinsky, who had been celebrated in Germany long before Malevich, had ever received such distinguished attention.... The exhibition became the defining moment in Malevich's career in terms of the reception of his work in the West, not just at the time, but subsequently also; as it turns out, the works shown would become, outside Russia, the primary source of knowledge of Malevich's oeuvre for the next fifty years" (M. Drutt, Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism, op. cit., pp. 21-22). In archival photographs from the exhibition, we can see this picture hanging on the walls.
The effect that Malevich's art had on future generations of artists cannot be understated. Unlike the pictures of his fellow Russian artist Kandinsky, whose pre-war oils were embellished with flurries of abstraction, Malevich's pictures have an unadulterated linearity and precision that was a major precursor of abstraction in the second half of the twentieth century. Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd can all trace the origins of their work to Malevich's sublimely pared-down shapes, bold color and non-objective themes. Mystic Suprematism, with its vibrancy and lyricism, transcend its historical frame of reference, earning the status of a timeless classic.
Malevich predicted the great impact that his Suprematist philosophy would have on the development of modern aesthetics and artistic theory: "Our world of art has become new, non-objective, pure. Everything has vanished, there remains a mass of material, from which the new forms will be built. In the art of Suprematism form will live, like all living forms of nature. These forms announce that man has gained his equilibrium by arriving from a state of single reasoning at one of double reasoning. Utilitarian reasoning and intuitive reasoning. The new realism in painting is very much realism in painting for it contains no realism of mountains, sky, water... Until now there was realism of objects, but not of painted units of color which are constructed so that they depend neither on form, nor on colour nor on their position relative to each other. Each form is free and individual. Each form is a world" (K. Malevich, op. cit., p. 174). Mystic Suprematism, which encapsulates these very concepts, puts forth an image of this spectacular new world.
Mystic Suprematism has been featured in the collection of the Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum for the last fifty years and is regarded as a paradigmatic example of the twentieth-century avant-garde at its most radical. Malevich's work on Mystic Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval) commenced in the aftermath of the the 16th State Exhibition in Moscow in 1919-20, which established Malevich as one of the most influential artists of his era. In 1927, the artist accompanied this picture to exhibitions in Warsaw and Berlin, introducing Western Europe to the unprecedented aesthetic that he had devised in the years leading up Lenin's triumph. In June 1927, Malevich was obliged to return to the Soviet Union and arranged for the painting to be stored in Berlin, but he was prevented from leaving the Soviet Union, where he died in 1935. Mystic Suprematism was later entrusted to the German architect Hugo Haring, who purportedly sold it to the Stedelijk Museum. It was finally returned to the artist's heirs in 2008. Rarely does a single picture embody such cultural and art historical significance.