Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Malevich, Tate Modern

This is a classic retrospective for Tate Modern to stage, a show that gives us the work of a proper, if curiously peripheral giant of Modernism. I knew about the Suprematist Black Square (1913/15 but a 1923 version in this exhibition)... and that was about it. One double-takes in the opening room which is full of what appear to be works of contemporaries or stylistic exercises but are in fact all Malevich's work in the first decade of the twentieth century: a Matisse-like figure lumbers across one canvas and Fauvist individuals squat in another; cathedrals are buried in the thick, misty impasto of what might be a Monet cathedral contrasting with a glowering Viennese Secessione landscape.

Then there's an explosion of cubism, impressive canvases that flirt with Futurism and Vorticism. Figures that might have been by Fernand Leger become costume designs for an opera (Victory Over The Sun) about harnessing the elemental power of the solar system itself. Here is a artist of considerable ability and ambition.

This is what makes the final two rooms of the exhibition so crushingly sad, two spaces in which energy and drive, prospecting an aesthetic of the future, is stopped in its tracks and wiped away. All the abstraction of the central rooms (regular visitors to Tate Modern must surely, as I do, have a associated reaction to simply being in room 7 at the centre of major retrospectives now!) is pulled back to producing figurative art that would fulfill the political reach of a totalitarian state. Three figures remain in the final room with an odd, existentially void black backdrop, the visual equivalent of a middle-period Shostakovich symphony. The late self-portrait (1933) is a travesty, a parody of a 17th century work, pre-war postmodernism.

No comments:

Post a Comment