Abstract art in Russia: Suprematism

Suprematism was preceded by cubism, the Big Bang of abstract art. While never pure abstract art, Picasso's creation of cubism, around 1910, inspired other artists to take the visual arts to cubism's ultimate consequence: pure abstract art. Once Picasso had opened the door to abstract art, it's remarkable how quickly artists like Mondrian and Malevich found their way to pure abstract art in the form of geometric abstraction. With geometric abstraction we mean art in which nature's realism (actual objects as seen in the real world) is replaced by geometric shapes like squares, circles and triangles.

During a time in which people were beginning to feel the effects of secularisation and the spiritual void this non-religious modernism left behind, artists were looking for a higher world than the tangible and sought to replace artistic realism with a style that was meant to be more universal and spiritual. Initially independently, this led Mondrian and Malevich to their geometric abstraction. (We once again mention Mondrian here, to stress the similarities between his artistic and intellectual development and that of Malevich).

Malevich 'Black Square' - suprematism
Malevich's version of geometric abstraction is called suprematism, which he developped between 1913 and 1915. To Malevich the square was 'the zero of form' and his 'Black Square' painting shocked his contempories. In a leaflet called 'From cubism and futurism to suprematism', written for a 1915 exhibition in St. Petersburg, Malevich said:
    Only when the habit of one's consiousness to see in paintings bits of nature, madonnas and shameless nudes has disappeared, shall we see a pure-painting composition. Art is moving towards its self-appointed end of creation to the domination of the forms of nature.
Further reading: abstract algebra and suprematism

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