Tetiana Filevska, an art-manager, and researcher of Ukrainian avant-garde from Kyiv has recently come back from the Netherlands where she was studying the Stedelijk Museum archive and collection of Kazimir Malevich’s pictures. This trip and research became possible due to the EU’s project Culture Bridges.
Kazimir Malevich is one of the key artists of the XX century, a founder of Suprematism, author of the most famous painting in the history of contemporary art – Black Square. He is associated with the brand “Russian Avant-Garde”. However, few people know that he called himself a Ukrainian, while his works are much connected with a Ukrainian cultural tradition.
Here are five amusing facts about this ingenious artist.
Fact one. Malevich is one of the artists whose paintings are most frequently copied. As well as all movements within avant-garde. Forgers do it because of high demand and tremendous prices. Even major respectful museums discover they exhibit fake “maleviches”. For example, in 2017, it turned out that one of the German museums had a fake painting which had been kept there since the 1950s.
The recent scandal happened at the beginning of 2018: at the avant-garde exhibition of a private collection of Igor Toporovski, a Belgian of Russian origin, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, all 24 paintings (together with Malevich’s works) turned out to be fake. Art experts doubted whether the paintings were original. They wrote an open letter on this issue. “It was clear that those paintings were fake, even the smallest investigation proved this suggestion,” Tetiana Filevska says. “Now, the collector and the Museum director are filed charges, the investigation is being on.”
Fact two. Only one of Malevich’s painting in Ukraine is original, according to experts. It is Sketch of Interior Design for All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kyiv, which is kept in the National Art Museum of Ukraine. The painting and ten Malevich’s letters were given to the museum by Iryna Zhdanko, a widow of Lev Kramarenko, an artist, and close friend of Malevich. The sketch is important because, without a doubt, it was created in Kyiv.
Another painting which is kept in the village of Parkhomivka in the east of Ukraine has also an interesting story. It is exhibited in the Luniov Art Museum. Unfortunately, its founder, a local History teacher Afanasi Luniov never told where he had taken Malevich’s painting Suprematism-65 from. The future artist is known to have lived in this village for some time when his father Severin Malevich was working as a manager at the local sugar factory. However, the painting doesn’t have a provenance (the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object – author’s note).
Fact three. There is still a chance to find a Malevich’s painting in your grandma’s attic. The number of Kazimir Malevich’s works can’t be estimated for sure. He was very productive, but many paintings and drawings have been lost. Some works were given to friends by Malevich himself, some were destroyed or created at the time when he had a conflict with the Soviet authorities. It means some of these works can really be found one day in an unexpected place.
There are some paintings kept in Ukrainian private collections which were discovered in this way, according to owners. For example, one of the collectors says he found the very first painting of Malevich, which he created at the age of 16 in the Ukrainian town of Konotop.
As Malevich remembered, his Moonlight Night was a landscape with a river and a boat on the coast. One of his friends displayed this painting at a stationer’s shop where it was bought for 5 rubbles (which was a good price). Since that, the location of the painting has been unknown. It is hard to say whether it was really found and now is kept in the private collection.
“Few owners are ready to spend their time and money for expertise. They want to hype it as soon as possible to sell it at a higher price at auction,” Tetiana Filevska says. “I don’t know any case when it was officially confirmed that a painting found somewhere in the attic was original. But I know people who believe a painting is original, and they have reasons for it.”
Fact four. Malevich considered himself a Ukrainian and called Ukrainian village women his first art teachers. He wrote about himself and his close friend Lev Kvachevsky, “He and I were Ukrainians.”
Pole by birth, he started to consider himself a Ukrainian at the end of the 1920s. At that time, Malevich came back to Ukraine, having got disappointed in Russia which pulled the plug on him, didn’t let him work, accused him of espionage on behalf of Germany and imprisoned him for a month. In 1930, he was arrested again in Leningrad for “anti-Soviet propaganda”. His arrest profile which survived to this very day said he was a Ukrainian. Passports already existed in the USSR at that time. It is possible that when Malevich got his passport, he became not a Pole but Ukrainian.
Between two arrests, 1928-1930, he was a lecturer at the Kyiv Art Institute (now National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture) and published his articles in a Kharkiv magazine Nova Generatsia (New Generation). Here, he started to communicate with his former friends and colleagues, remembered his happy childhood. When Kazimir was a child, he loved watching village women cross the Dnieper on boats. They had colorful clothes. He liked watching how her friends’ mothers were embroidering, painting stoves and eggs for Easter.
“During my fortnight Culture Bridges journey to Amsterdam, I looked through a big number of documents from Mykola Kharidzheiev, a “chronologist” of the avant-garde,” Tetiana Filevska says. “The archive is based in Russia but Stedelijk has electronic copies, researchers can easily get access to them. Besides, the museum has the biggest collection of Malevich’s works beyond Russia. I discovered many interesting and still unstudied Ukrainian connections and motives: correspondence with friends-artists, a great sketch where Larionov, an artist, is depicted as Mamai Cossack, with a typical Ukrainian haircut (oseledets) and a pipe.”
Fact five. Ukraine can’t afford a major Malevich’s exhibition yet. To bring works from Europe and the USA, some technical museums’ requirements should be fulfilled: a certain humidity and temperature in halls, guards and insurance. Ukraine just doesn’t have any state museums which are able to provide necessary conditions for precious paintings. However, Tetiana Filevska is negotiating with the Stedelijk Museum about arranging a mutual exhibition of Ukrainian avant-garde in Amsterdam. It may happen within years.
By Olha Pereverzeieva