The Non-Objective World: Art & Language, Ilya Kabakov

Art Free
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Weirdly, the star artist of this exhibition isn’t actually in it. That would be Kazimir Malevich, the early-twentieth-century Russian pioneer of Suprematism who believed art could be distilled into the simplest of forms – a black square. (The show’s title comes from a book he wrote that extolled his radical ideas.) The two artistic forces in this show have been curatorially paired as they’ve both tackled Malevich, his square and its far-reaching legacy. 

So there’s Ilya Kabakov, one half of collaborative couple with his wife Emilia (who have a major exhibition at Tate Modern next year). Kabakov grew up in post-war Soviet Russia, a time when the pre-Bolshevik Malevich was denounced as bourgeois and banned outright. Kabakov deals with these battling ideologies in the paintings on display here: pencil-drawn, Commie-type scenes of workers in fields are bordered by sacrilegious black rectangles. 

Then there’s ‘Art & Language’: no, not an undergrad textbook, but Englishmen Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden. As twenty-somethings in the ’60s, they devoured Malevich’s book with awe, and subsequently gave his black square a reboot, taking it off the canvas and putting it directly on the walls. They appear in twos and threes here, and look kind of cute. Other framed works feature the square alongside scribbled passages of text: ‘The effect of the time factor of our operations as we approach absolute zero demands more consideration than has usually been given.’ 

Which sounds like the ravings of a mad scientist in his lab. But then it’s appropriate for Malevich, who was a mad-scientist kind of artist. He had big, bold ideas about what art could do and be. And if the two threads of work in this show feel a bit overshadowed by the big guy, what still shines through is their admiration and respect. Fan love, basically.


By: Matt Breen


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