Kazimir Malevich and “The Last Futurist Exhibition (0, 10)”

Exhibit Location: The Joseph Regenstein Library, Second Floor
Exhibit Dates: June 22 – October 31, 2016

Black Square by Malevich, in 1915

Black Square by Malevich (1915)

One hundred years ago (December 1915-January 1916), one of the most significant exhibitions in the history of the pre-revolutionary Russian avant-garde was The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 (Zero Ten). It marked an important moment of transition. Up to this point, Russian innovators had essentially been assimilating and developing the creative inventions of European artists. 0.10 revealed that Russian artists had caught up with their Western colleagues and now occupied a position at the forefront of avant-garde experimentation. From being followers, they had become leaders. At 0.10, Kazimir Malevich presented his famously iconic Black square along with thirty-eight completely non-figurative Suprematist canvases, which consisted of colored geometric shapes painted on white grounds… assemblages of everyday materials that were liberated from the wall and floor and slung across the corners of the room so that they defied gravity and existed fully in space. These twin innovations of non-figurative work in two and three dimensions posed fundamental questions concerning the nature of art itself, undermining traditional notions of painting and sculpture, and marking the beginning of a new phase in modernist explorations. [Any] attempt to reconstruct the original show would be well nigh impossible given the paucity of accurate information.

Photograph of works displayed on walls.

Only known image of Malevich’s works as displayed in the 1915-1916 “Last Futurist Exhibition”

Only two installation photographs of 0.10 exist – one shows part of Malevich’s display and the other illustrates a fragment of Tatlin’s presentation. Even the printed catalogue does not provide a definitive list of exhibits since the display underwent several changes as artists added and removed items. Moreover, the catalogue entries are so vague (sometimes consisting merely of numbers) that many of the works are difficult to identify with any precision. To compound such difficulties… many of the paintings were lost or damaged in the chaos that followed the Revolution of 1917, the Civil War (1918–20) and the imposition of Stalinism. Uncertainties about 0.10 abound……The show in Russian is Poslednaya futuristicheskya vystavka kartin 0,10 (nol’-desyat’). Translating the title into English usually entails changing the mathematical formula as well, and converting the comma into a full stop. While the exact meaning of ‘zero-ten’ remains obscure, a mathematical allusion was clearly intentional. Malevich, who never underestimated the importance of the Black square, frequently referred to it as the ‘zero’ of form – denoting both an end and a beginning – and argued that Suprematism went beyond ‘zero’. ‘10’ might refer to the number of artists initially involved in the show, who had also gone beyond zero.

Text excerpted from “In Search of 0,10 – The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting” by Christina Lodder in The Burlington Magazine, no. 158 (2016), pp. 61-63.

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