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Geometric Abstraction at Met

In Russia, the language of geometric abstraction first appeared in 1915 in the work of the avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) (The Museum of Modern Art), in the style he termed Suprematism. Creating nonobjective compositions of elemental forms floating in white unstructured space, Malevich strove to achieve “the absolute,” the higher spiritual reality that he called the “fourth dimension.” Simultaneously, his compatriot Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) originated a new geometric abstract idiom in an innovative three-dimensional form, which he first dubbed “painterly reliefs” and subsequently “counter-reliefs” (1915–17). These were assemblages of randomly found industrial materials whose geometric form was dictated by their inherent properties, such as wood, metal, or glass. That principle, which Tatlin called “the culture of materials,” spurred the rise of the Russian avant-garde movement Constructivism (1918–21), which explored geometric form in two and three dimensions. The main practitioners of Constructivism included Liubov Popova (1889–1924), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891–1956) (The Museum of Modern Art), Varvara Stepanova (1894–1958), and El Lissitzky (1890–1941). It was Lissitzky who became the transmitter of Constructivism to Germany, where its principles were later embodied in the teachings of the Bauhaus. Founded by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, it became during the 1920s (and until its dismantling by the Nazis in 1933) the vital proponent of geometric abstraction and experimental modern architecture. As a teaching institution, the Bauhaus encompassed different disciplines: painting, graphic arts, stage design, theater, and architecture. The art faculty was recruited from among the most distinguished painters of the time: Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Oskar Schlemmer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, all of whom were devoted to the ideal of the purity of geometric form as the most appropriate expression of the modernist canon. Read more...


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