Suprematism, the style the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich invented, is already one hundred years old. To celebrate this anniversary, the Malevich Society organised a two-day conference at Columbia University inviting scholars from all over the world to give a lecture on different aspects of Suprematism (http://malevichsociety.org/). There are some people here that I need to see about the exhibition ‘Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich’ that we are preparing for 2018 together with Centre Pompidou. Then there are some lectures on ‘Unovis’ that I would like to hear because this movement is part of our exhibition. And there are some people that I would like to meet because I have read some of their writings. And finally this is a chance to see some of my friends from the Lissitzky Foundation again. Enough reasons to go to New York already, but I after this will also go to Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in Long Island to discuss another project. And to learn all about angels of course.
It would be too much to summarize all the lectures. Let’s leave that to someone else. I especially liked the lecture by Christina Lodder, who talked about similarities and differences between Suprematism and Constructivism and also took it on her to read some of the lectures of Russian scholars. I could listen to her for hours; her clear diction, perfect declamation and of course impeccable English. When I told her so, she threatened to use the fire extinguisher on me.
One event should be mentioned though: an improvised discussion between two eminent Malevich scholars on a recently discovered text under the white paint in the ‘Black Square’ painting by Malevich in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Recently it was discovered that someone wrote the text “Battle of the negroes in the dark” in Russian on this painting. This of course can be seen as an ironic description of the ‘Black Square’. Sorry to use the n-word here, but this is not my text. The question under discussion here was who actually wrote this on the painting. Tretyakov curator Irina Vakar defended the thesis that Malevich himself wrote it in 1915 as a funny comment on his recently finished painting. Malevich scholar Alexandra Shatskikh on the other hand was convinced that the artist would never do a thing like that. According to her, having finished this painting the artist sensed that he had discovered something exceptional so he would never make a comment like this. Moreover: the text is not in his handwriting and was written when the paint was already dry. It was probably some vandal who wrote it when the painting was on show and nobody was watching. I can imagine that you might think: “So what the hack?” But for me as an art historian and curator working in the field of Russian art it was a joy to listen to these two scholars exchanging arguments in this very civilised discussion. And Nina Bouis provided an excellent live translation.
I took the Sunday afternoon off to visit PS1, the other MoMA. It’s near my hotel, only one subway stop away, but I decided to walk. It’s a sunny, almost warm afternoon, not at all the blizzard weather I have packed my suitcase for. The neighbourhood is a strange mixture of industrial building and little houses in between, unpolished and nice to live in for a while. At least I would not mind.
PS1 is an old factory renovated just enough to fulfil the function of showing art. But it has kept the overall wabi-sabi look and feel of an old industrial building and I find this very agreeable. The omnipresent ageless white cubes cannot inspire me anymore. When I arrived there were already people waiting at the door to get in. “New ideas need old buildings” someone wrote, and I could add that working here seems to give you eternal youth. This building must be in use as an exhibition centre now for some twenty years already but the staff and the public remains forever young.
After an excellent espresso with a piece of delicious raspberry and blackberry pie in the agreeable restaurant I am ready for ‘Greater New York’ the fourth iteration an five yearly exhibition series showing the work of emerging artists living and working in the New York metropolitan area. I was ready, but you will have to wait now because I have other things to do now.