Big words do not terrify me in the least. So, if ever Malevich boasts about his importance for the arts, I salute him with an understanding smile. But then it is time to analyze what he is saying with his big words. And connect this to what he has done. Because art is not at all only words, it is, most of all, deeds.

One deed of Malevich, his Black Square of 1915, is one of the boldest deeds in the arts ever, which in itself is reason enough to grant Malevich some sincere respect. He had gone where no one else had gone before. And where he had gone, was so far away from where all the others had gone, that you could see an example of the utmost intellectual/spiritual bravery in it. For this reason I will defend – if necessary... – Malevich’s Black Square against anyone till the day I die.

But climbing this joyful paramount right at the start, I also immediately have to dive into the disappointing circumstances that guide this most illustrious token of art-on-the-edge: from the perspective of art Malevich should have quit painting the moment he finished his Black Square. Anything else would be a (much!) lesser intellectual/spiritual challenge. And it was. No matter the extremely refined sense of composition, the modernist feel of a new aesthetic order, all the suprematist paintings following Black Square lack the same exceptional urgency of this one-of-a-kind painting. Not to speak of the later paintings.

Should Picasso have quit painting after Les demoiselles d’Avignon? No, not at all. However an extremely far-reaching painting, it did not possess the ‘final qualities’ Black Square possesses. There was a whole world of possibilities stretching out beyond the demoiselles d’Avignon. But not behind Malevich’s Black Square *. There was only nothingness left after Malevich had found this final frontier. A nothingness he did not dare to step into, considering his white on white paintings in which he denies the challenge to leave the canvas simply blank...

The Meta-paintings of Marianne Schuit?Meta-paintings.html

Malevich was a nice guy, but he had it all wrong

Meta-art is the end of art - video
Joost J. Ligthart speaks with Mick van Schooneveld

     “...are you never afraid that Marianne’s Meta-paintings are somehow 
               overshadowed by what you say about them?”

          “... if there is truth to be told, even when it may seem like bragging,
                I will not hesitate to tell this truth.”

There are no less than 4 Black Squares, which in itself is proof of Malevich’s lack of profound understanding that an ultra-defining work of art like Black Square really could (and should...) only be created once. Alas, there were humane reasons to (more or less...) copy it. And so, once again, art lost. From its own creator.

Don’t think that this is bizarre, dear reader. There are hundreds of examples of artists eventually leaving their art in the cold because of humane reasons. Vanity. Poverty. An overload of success. You name it. But then again: no one of them had ever come up with the kind of ultimate creative expression like Malevich came up with. And so the disappointment about him taking these steps, is of such a degree that it makes you think of treason. Malevich betrayed the idea of his Black Square. And in doing so he robbed it of much of its intellectual/spiritual splendour. Its one-of-a-kind-character, its breathtaking sovereign gesture, its the-end-of all-ends-phenomenology, it all dissolved in the kind of doings so peculiar for how man struggles to fill the human condition. A condition Malevich had a lot to say about, especially concerning its relationship with art. And what he had to say about it left little room for second thoughts about the place of art in all this. Art had always been, even when we didn’t understand this yet, its own sovereign master. No place for petty, all-too-human, concerns. And the one and only first Black Square from 1915 fitted this point of view perfectly. But Malevich was, eventually, too humane for this one piece of art from his own hand. He took it out into the world and while doing this he took too much of himself with it.

For those who have seen the Malevich exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, it will be clear that Malevich had the kind of split personality that has to lead to such circumstances. If you gave his Cubo-Futurist paintings a good look, you will have noticed that one of the most eye-catching properties of them is the fact that they are much more decorative than the cubist paintings of the original cubists, Picasso, Braque, Gris. There is a kind of reassuring beauty about them that strongly tends to lead our focus away from the exploration of what is essential. Here already Malevich walks two lines at the same time. And as I have pointed out above, he will not stop doing this, not even in the shadow of his all-consuming Black Square of 1915.

Watching scenes from the modernist opera Victory over the sun, which was shown to the audience in a separate hall, for which Malevich designed the costumes, it came to me that Modernism in general often had two faces. One of them being the extremely serious and bold face of the unstoppable urge for unlimited exploration. The other one a very childish face that made a fool of what the other face was busy with. However sympathetic to the first face of Victory over the sun, in the end it was the second face of this modernist opera that eventually gave me a feeling of vicarious shame. A bunch of grown ups, probably taking themselves more seriously than anyone around them took himself seriously, came up with something so childishly futile, that its attempts to be different, to be modern, lost every power of persuasion.

And there we are back at Malevich. Who also lost his power of persuasion by turning something immensely unique into something that could be copied at will. Meanwhile there will be hardly any artist who tried so hard to persuade as Malevich did. Mondrian, yes. His comrade in abstraction. He too could not stop filling this world with texts on his Nieuwe Beelding. And just as with Malevich I always think, whenever I put myself to such a text: thank goodness, the paintings are still there, to just look at, without having to trudge through those mental diarrhoea.

Trudging through the texts of Malevich is not a joyful thing to do. Not because of the big words he often uses, but because of the bare nonsense he is exclaiming. Someone who has created such interesting paintings, should also exclaim interesting thoughts. Or keep his mouth shut. But Malevich didn’t. And he was down right wrong. Not only in hindsight, but also seen from his own era. Often his thoughts are reflected by the titles he gave his paintings. Suprematism of the Spirit, a painting from 1919, shows Malevich view on something entirely immaterial. One could say that ideas are just as immaterial as ‘the spirit’, but in a way ideas may be seen as phenomena that can take on different forms. Symbols are forms in which we find certain ideas reflected. But ‘the spirit’… of all things immaterial the one thing that cannot be visualized in any way. And still, Malevich proclaims, with this painting, that he is able to connect some kind of pictorial language to something entirely elusive like ‘the spirit’. Utter bullocks. Which leaves this beautiful painting in the cold of a crazy would-be knowledge.

Don’t think this might be a rare example of Malevich probably having a headache while thinking of a title for one of his paintings. Everywhere in his texts and doings you find traces of bullocks of the worst kind. As a teacher he categorized, on a poster, religion, the art of living and art, putting them in rectangular forms, more or less centred around a small picture of his Black Square. I suppose the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the other great minds of the beginnings of the 20th century, would have dissected this futile piece of ‘thinking’ right to its very last shred of humbug in an instant. To Malevich this humbug reflected suprematist truth, which means: ultimate truth.

As I stated before: great art is always greater than the mind it comes form.

And how paradoxical: this is even truer for the mind that came up with one of the world’s most edgy works of art ever.

The artist Malevich was home to an artistic idea-of-ideas, the man Malevich was home to an urge to put in words what cannot be put in words and thus should be left entirely to itself. The only words he could have rightfully spent on his Black Square would have been: “This is the end.”

But then again: would the world have seen Malevich like she sees him now? Most probably not. And so it is always art versus the world, not when art comes into the light, but when it starts travelling towards this world it, somehow, comes from.

I have never said that art was not a most paradoxical phenomenon.

Mick van Schooneveld, 23 October 2013

  1. *Of course I am leaving Meta-art out of this equation, because I am speaking of art here, not  of something transcending art...

Malevich was a nice guy, but he had it all wrong was written after a visit

to the Malevich exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.