Malevich’s Absurdism

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Noemi Smolik examines latent parody and absurdism in the work of Kazimir Malevich, on the occasion of the exhibition Malevich at Tate Modern, London, on view through October 26, 2014.

Smolik writes: "In Moscow at the time, a whole generation of young artists, poets, musicians and scholars was revolting against the Western model of linear progress and modernization. Their allegation was that this model served as an intellectual justification of Western culture’s claim to superiority over all other cultures, ethnicities and religions. The revolt was accompanied by an increased appreciation of Russian tradition as embodied in icons as well as in the oral tradition of fairytales, songs, incantations and sayings… Remarks by Malevich himself reveal a similar spirit… The absurdists [OBERIU group] who performed at Malevich’s institute really did wish to undermine the credibility of the rapidly spreading, supposedly scientific materialism with their absurd actions. To one of them, the absurdist Daniil Kharms, Malevich gave a copy of his own 1922 treatise ‘God is not defeated’ – which in this context can only be understood as an angry parody on historical materialism’s exclusive claim to truth. The dedication he wrote to Kharms in his book reads: ‘Go forth and hinder progress’."

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