Malevich’s diagrams

Malevich Diagrams

Malevich undertook an educational programme to teach people about art, and about Suprematism. The Stedelijk show has a room dedicated to the pedagogical diagrams he developed as part of this effort. They are beautiful, and also funny, partly because some of them come across as being efforts to show why suprematism is just the best thing ever, but also because the exhibition acknowledges that the diagrams were a disappointment to Malevich because, to his surprise, people couldn’t understand them. 

You can see why. Some of them seem quite simple, but others seem to use the wrong diagrammatic form for what they are trying to explain – line graphs to indicate the presence of a particular feature in an art form, without any meaningful temporal aspect. And so on. Beautiful though they are, perhaps they suffer from an aesthetic faith in the graphical – that because something has been rendered diagrammatic its meaning should become self-evident. The diagram is assumed to shine a kind of sacred exegetical light on the subject, whereas in fact its graphical brilliance serves only to plunge the meaning of the thing into obscurity.

Unlike Alfred Bann, who’s diagram showing the genealogy of Abstract Art uses a network of connections, Malevich uses a somewhat more monolithic form. On one side there is religion. On the other, Lebensart (or the Art of Living). In the middle, Art, and of course the image of Art is the black square.

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