malevich – at the tate

Alice, my daughter, aged 18 months, woke up disgustingly early on Sunday (4.30 am) and my partner, Fiona, very nicely looked after her til a more reasonable breakfast time. In order to give Fiona a chance to go back to bed and have a sleep without any interruptions, Alice and I went out and headed down to Leyton and the central line and St Pauls, then across the river to Tate Modern. Alice likes running around in the wide open spaces of the turbine hall; I was hoping to get a first look at the Malevich Retrospective. Neither of us was disappointed…

As I straddle parts two and three of The Art of Photography (elements of design and colour), I can think of no better exhibition to see than this one. Malevich’s rejection of representation which resulted in Suprematist pictures like Black Square or Suprematist Composition (with Eight Red Rectangles) from a hundred years ago fits nicely into a head that dealing with lines and shapes and compostion. Certainly the room where you first come across the Suprematist work feels like a massive YES! after the first couple of rooms of early post-impressionist and cubist stuff. In that sense it’s rather like the Jackson Pollock exhibition from 1999 where after some rather crap sub-Picasso stuff, you got to the first action painting and everything took off.

Somewhere, I read a blog by someone stating quite baldly that they wouldn’t want to hang Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins on their wall for people to look at (and I sort of know what they mean in that I’d hang it somewhere where you came upon it round a corner, like the twins in The Shining (Kubrick, 1980) rather than in the living room) but despite the absense of anything that could reasonably be described as picturesque, I’d happily hang the Malevich pictures on my wall,  and look at them every day, if that means anything. The room that recreates the hanging of the remaining pictures from the initial 1915 Suprematist exhibition with the black square high on the wall, across the corner is just lovely.

Divorced from the need to represent something, the pictures are about form and shape and lines and composition and colour. This is not easily applied to photography (where there is always – I think? – some correlation between the physical world and the subject matter of the work) and I’m not sure if I would want to apply it even if were possible; I don’t want to break free of history or now or events or politics. But I do like looking at these pictures, and I do find the opportunity to think of underlying questions of form and structure useful at this stage of the course.

And also, it is good (as well as sad) to have the later pictures, painted in the 30s after Stalin had started to undermine any art that did not conform to Socialist Realist affirmation of the revolution, with their half concealed suprematist flourishes of colour and form to give an idea of how the ideas of the earlier paintings can be combined with depictions of the real, in the same way that I’m trying at this point to do things with points and shapes and lines while also taking pictures that show something.

I realise that this is a bit disjointed, but it’s the best I can do now. I will revisit the exhibition before it closes and I may then digest the ideas more coherently. If so, I will revisit this in a new post…

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