What Was Suprematism? A Brief History of the Russian Idealists Who Created Abstraction as We Know It

At an exhibition entitled “0.10” (“Zero Ten”) in St Petersburg in 1915, Black Square (completed in 1913), the first Suprematist work by Kazimir Malevich (1878–1935), hung in the corner of the room, the traditional setting for an icon in an Orthodox Russian home. The artwork was a square canvas painted black. Malevich claimed in 1927 that in works such as this, he was trying to “free art from the dead weight of the real world.” In rejecting narrative subject matter, Malevich chose to ignore both current political events and traditional religious imagery, replacing both with a search for something beyond the physical world. His extreme form of abstraction asks the viewer to meditate on the qualities of form and paint and glorifies these as spiritual in and of themselves.

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