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Selection of Reviews on the Malevich Exhibition in the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin

While two museums in Frankfurt are currently celebrating figurative painting's comeback, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin is concentrating on the highpoint of abstraction with the exhibition Kasimir Malevich: Suprematism. The critics have been enthusiastic – and surprised! Who would have thought that a black square could have such an effect following decades of abstract painting?

Christian Semler describes it best in the taz: "What's a classic? Someone one quotes without really investigating closely again. Kasimir Malevich is a classic of non-objective painting: hence incorporated, finished. And so the impression that arises while walking around the Malevich exhibition in the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin is all the more surprising. One might have felt obligated to show a quasi antiquated, polite interest in this avant-gardist. Square, cross, circle – we know all that already. And then we're overwhelmed by their immediate effect, by the paintings' grip. One expected to enter a kind of discursive space, where fundamental elements of color and form are introduced in an analytical manner. Instead, we as visitors get a hint of something that Malevich called the 'spirit of non-objective perception.'"

In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Ulrich Clewing is amazed that Malevich's paintings are "as fresh and modern as they were the day they were made," despite his "muddled and outdated" theories. "In any case, the formal language the artist arrived at back then is still very close to us today. Viewing the rectangles, bars, and thin lines striving from one side of the canvas to another with an interstellar dynamics, one could at times surmise that their effect has prevailed to this day – where they've become imbedded in art, advertising, design, and the general everyday aesthetic in such an enduring way that the viewer takes them to be completely self-evident."

In the Tagesspiegel, Bernhard Schulz sees it similarly: "However one might evaluate Malevich's treatises, which are difficult to comprehend without taking the historical and philosophical context of the Russian art discussion following 1900 into account: what can be seen in the Guggenheim exhibition are wonderful compositions containing an equilibrium of tension made by a painter capable of creating relationships between color and form that had never been seen before." Along with the familiar paintings from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Schulz is happy to discover "delightful discoveries from the museums in Krasnodar or Ekaterinburg – or from Japan, where that surprising painting comes from, the upwards-swinging form that's by no means angular and square."

While Michael Diers from the Süddeutsche Zeitung does not completely agree with the exhibition's concentration on Malevich's suprematist phase, he nonetheless does indeed seem to fall prey to the paintings' sheer beauty. "The Guggenheim exhibition prefers the painter cleansed of historical and political waste. Apart from very few references, the apparently inconsistent, inconstant later works as well as their origin in the art of the 19th century have been omitted … as a result, however, the other, more political, evidently less favored side of Malevich's oeuvre, which was in part made parallel to the non-objective works, is left out entirely. What remains is an image of sheer triumph. That's a stylization, even an abstraction that neglects what the artist had to overcome in terms of concrete resistance, what he was forced to adapt to. In this sense, the exhibition is much too beautiful to be true."

In the Welt, Gabriela Walde remarks that the "Guggenheim Berlin has managed a coup again – while the USA are plagued by a decrease in the numbers of visitors, the German Guggenheim branch has picked up enormously. With over 600,000 visitors in only five years, it's worked its way up to become one of the most diversified and international exhibition locations of the capital. And now the current exhibition, with over 80 works by Kasimir Malevich, the pioneer of abstract painting, is a little sensation, as well: many of the works are on loan from Russian museums and are being shown in the West for the first time because cooperation had been blocked for decades by the Soviet regime."

Vera Görgen from the Financial Times is also impressed by the expressive power of the abstract forms: "Square, rectangle, circle. That is the formal vocabulary that the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich reduced his painting to. It is fascinating to see how he succeeds in setting the static forms of his paintings in dynamic movement. The monochrome squares of yellow, red, or blue seem to dance, as though they were jumping for joy or floating on invisible strings like a lightweight mobile."

Anja Seeliger


Translation: Andrea Scrima