REVIEW: “There will be three of us…” Kazimir Malevich, Ilya Chashnik, Nikolay Suetin at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow by Theodora Clarke

New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is famous as the foremost site of Russian art in the world with its vast collection of icons and historical paintings. However, its counterpart the New Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val is less well known. This is a shame as this sister museum houses an extraordinary collection of twentieth century Russian art. The modern Tretaykov includes prime examples of all the major Russian avant-garde movements such as the Knave of Diamonds, Donkey’s Tail, Constructivism and Suprematism. The rooms display beautiful paintings by Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Robert Falk, Aristarkh Lentulov and Pavel Filonov to name but a few. It also houses two remarkable reconstructions, the first of Rodchenko’s ‘Worker’s Club’ of 1925, which was originally made for the International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Arts in Paris. The second room displays the Obmokhu exhibition of 1921 which featured work from the leading Constructivists. The latter rooms also display significant works from the Soviet period such as Deinecka’s ‘The Defence of Petrograd’ (1928) and Petrov-Vodkin’s ‘Bathing of the Red Horse’ (1912).

There will be three of us…” Malevich, Chashnik, Suetin. Exhibition catalogue, State Tretyakov Gallery (2012)

Once you reach the end of this huge gallery you will find three rooms which are dedicated to a new exhibition on Suprematism. Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935), the founder of this new art movement, and his two close associates Nicholas Suetin (1897-1954) and Ilya Chasnik (1902-1929) are the focus here. Many of the pictures have never been exhibited in Russia and are virtually unknown to the general public. The curator Tatiana Goryachev explains the origin of the exhibition’s title: “ “…There will be three of us…” Malevich wrote in a letter to Suetin about the narrow circle of Suprematist innovators, Suetin and Chasnik, who were the closest companions of Malevich. The three really felt themselves as a close creative community”. The exhibition displays works by these three artists which are grouped individually into different adjacent rooms. The exhibition sets out to tell the narrative of their strong creative partnership that was formed in Vitebsk. In autumn of 1919 Malevich had begun to teach painting at the Vitebsk People’s Art School where both Suetin and Chasnik became his students. With Malevich’s arrival the school dramatically changed its focus to Suprematism and Vitebsk became the capital for this artistic group.

Chasnik 'Suprematist Composition' (1925), Sepherot Foundation

In 1920 Malevich founded a new group called UNOVIS or Project for the Affirmation of the New in Art. Both Suetin and Chasnik became active members and under Malevich’s leadership began to practice as Suprematist artists. Two years later, Malevich left to assume leadership of the Museum of Artistic Culture (MCC) and both of his students moved to Petrograd. The close relationship between Chashnik and Suetin continued until the former’s early death in 1929. These artists are well known for creating works in numerous mediums. Both Suetin and Chashnik painted porcelain, made sketches for furniture and designed textiles, of which there are several examples displayed. In the mid-1920s, they also created a number of projects which promoted Malevich’s architectural concepts. Their work shows the struggles they faced as students in both wanting to emulate and learn from their teacher and the principles of Suprematism but, also their attempts to forge their own distinct artistic path. The Sepherot Foundation in Lichenstein has provided the works for this exhibition. The foundation owns a collection which covers almost all of Malevich’s working life. The earliest examples are two impressionistic sketches, drawn in Kursk, where Malevich spent his youth and where he began his artistic career. In other works we can trace the development of Malevich’s style and see how his passion for aesthetics developed. Early works also display his interest in the Jack of Diamonds group. In one example, Malevich deploys neo-primitivist techniques choosing to draw with deliberate crudeness and simplifying his figures.

Malevich 'Suprematism' (1915), Sepherot Foundation

When Malevich died in 1935, the art world in Russia was dominated by Soviet Realism as decreed by Stalin. Malevich was the father of Suprematism who had created the famous ‘Black Square’. However, even he began to return to a more figurative style from the end of the 1920s and the early 1930s. The latter part of the exhibition displays examples from this later period. Suetin, like his teacher, also returned to figurative painting but which still incorporate Suprematist principles. Two of the highlights are his painting ‘A Woman with a Black Saw’ (1927-8) and ‘Portrait of Mother’ (1932-1934). The exhibition also contains a unique work by Chasnik ‘Suprematic Architectural Model. Cross and Circle’ (1926). Suprematist architecture was the logical continuation of Suprematism in painting. Malevich was not interested in practical urban planning but instead he designed architectones or plaster models of spatial Suprematist constructions. His aim was to reconsider architectural thinking and to design a new Suprematist order. The Tretyakov Gallery has presented an interesting survey of the main periods of Malevich’s career in addition to some rarely seen drawings from the 1920s. The catalogue and exhibition are both in Russian which is a deterrent to foreign visitors unfamiliar with Cyrillic. However, this is an interesting show which includes a range of examples from easel paintings to architectural designs, sketches to fabric designs. Malevich’s pupils are also represented by their famous ceramics from the State Lomonsov Factory.

Suetin 'Suprematist Composition with Black and Green' (1925), Sepherot Foundation

In total the exhibition displays 14 works of Malevich (4 paintings and 10 drawings), 55 works by Chashnik (graphics and plaster relief) and 35 works by Suetin (including one painting).The exhibition catalogue, provides articles about the artists and their creative union in addition to biographical information and photographs. A large number of the canvases and drawings that were produced by these three great Russian artists have been dispersed to museums around the world. The curator explains the importance of the exhibition: “There is very little hope of finding new pictures; and the appearance of unknown or considered lost works is practically equal to zero. This makes those rare works of the three masters in private collections even more valuable. Private collections of high quality and meaning represent great interest for modern exhibiting and scientific practice, because the pictures of the three artists are of extraordinary importance for studying the heritage of the Russian avant-garde”.

Suetin 'Woman with Black Blade' (1927-28), Sepherot Foundation

Нас будет трое…» Казимир Малевич. Николай Суетин. Илья Чашник. – Арт-Бридж There will be three of us…” Kazimir Malevich, Ilya Chashnik, Nikolay Suetin The Ministry of Culture | State Tretyakov Gallery |  Sepherot Foundation (Liechtenstein) Address: 10, Krymsky Val, Moscow, Russia, 117049 Metro: “Oktyabrskaya”, “Park kultury” Opening times: daily from 10.00 am – 07.30 pm (closed on Mondays)