the art of the Russian Revolution

Clar05_3922_01T.J. Clark at the LRB:

Malevich is hard to stop writing about. Partly this is because of the man’s impenetrable life and character, but mainly, I think, because of his work’s authority. None of the mysteries and ironies attached to him would matter if the paintings on the walls did not look down on us with such unique naive power. For those who would like to detach that authority from the dialogue with Leninism, let alone from the catastrophe of collectivisation, there are many get-outs. ‘Form is form’ is an undying one. Or there is the Izaak Brodsky answer: look again at Brodsky’s 1928 portrait of Stalin, which was certainly one of the most brilliant and fully realised works in the Royal Academy show, as appalling and persuasive as Ingres toadying to Napoleon. And don’t artists invariably bow down to tyrants? Wasn’t Duchamp right when he said that the main problem for artists in bourgeois society was that at least in the age of autocracies patrons had been ‘aussi sots, mais moins nombreux’? Are not the black-cube Lenin of 1924, and the later promise to put the proletariat before the footlights, just two more versions of what pageant masters (providers of visual services) always say and do?

I don’t think so. I don’t think the charge of simple time-serving comes close to capturing what we see taking place, in the choice of works Malevich made for his 1932 exhibit, and the decisions about how they were to be hung. It doesn’t begin to get us on terms with what Malevich and Punin seem to have believed was at stake in the installation, the risks they were prepared to take to build it.

more here.