As part of my drawing classes in Amsterdam, I offer guided visits to museums in order to develop a good eye for how the masters achieved their impressive results. These visits are not historical, but purely analytical.
My last visit consisted on attending the Kazimir Malevich exhibition on the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It claims to be the largest collection of the artist ever assembled and judging by the number of works on display, I'm inclined to believe them.
I still have mixed feelings about this art exhibition as it seems to me Malevich navigated a fine line between being a genius and a fraud. On the one hand he was able to produce exquisite drawings and paintings, the degree of finish of all his work was impeccable and it is obvious he invested an immense deal of time and energy in his life, exploring art and his concepts and ideas about it. He was in other words honestly and highly dedicated to his craft, and not just some nutter making weird stuff.
Thus far so good. So where does it go wrong for me?
Perhaps it's in putting too much value on the ideas at the expense of the art itself. All the isms that he came up with are interesting concepts, but the art they inspired was rarefied and distant. Of course, a modern art curator would take those words and at the flip of a hat, give them a spin and turn them into what makes his paintings brilliant, but I'm not convinced. Malevich started by heavily imitating Gaugin and Cezanne, and then went off into some tangent, from which only a Russian government prohibition on abstract art brought him back.
It is of course impossible to take art out of its historical context, so I would never venture saying that for a painting to be good, it would have to fend for itself anywhere and at any moment. I do believe though, that a painting should fend for itself regardless of who made it. Otherwise, we're appealing to authority, and making the piece itself second in line.
What I mean to say is that if Malevich's black square is so brilliant, it should be hailed as such regardless of whether he made it, or someone else did. Ironically my point was proven in the same exhibition, where some lesser artist also produced a black square, except nobody talked about this one. That sounds to me more like religion than being objective about whether the work is good or not.
The situation reminds me of the movie Vanilla Sky, where Tom Cruise plays a millionaire playboy who's face is disfigured. Since surgery was not possible he is offered the most advanced facial prostetic in the market, which adapts to his features, allows the skin underneath to heal better, and has plenty of other advantages.
In a fit of irony, Cruise appears impressed and pleased a the suggestion and says he's grateful that they tell him all about these features and benefits, because otherwise he would have thought they were trying to make him wear a f@#!ng mask!
Well, I feel the same about a lot of Malevich's work. It requires so much explanation, so many isms and conceptual framework, that it makes me wonder if we're not just being offered a bloody black square. Once again I don't question his dedication and honest pursuit of pushing the boundaries of art, but what resulted may not look outstanding, which is to me THE test of a visual piece.
Some of his work, and that of his followers is worthy of a 3 year old. However, if modern art has shown us something is that adults making 3 year old worthy art can come up with really good concepts and excuses to justify it.
My 2 cents...