The Last Futurist Exhibition, Belgrade, 1985-86
A Letter from Kazimir Malevich
My dear friends:
I was very much surprised to learn from the article “Diaorama” (A. i. A., March ‘86) of the artist David Diao, who actually copied my work using the famous photo of “The Last Futurist Exhibition” held in Petrograd, Dec. 17, 1915 - Jan. 19, 1916. I was a little bit confused, but eventually I liked both the idea and the paintings. Hope one day to see them for real. It was not less surprising to learn from the same article that my work has recently been used by some other artists from your beautiful town of New York. I can’t stop asking myself: Why? Why now, after so many years?
I remember that cold and snowy winter in Petrograd 1915 as if it were yesterday. Everything was in motion. It was a time of great hopes, enthusiasm, optimism, futurism and, of course, Revolution. You could smell it even in the cold Russian air. The end of the great century … the new age … huge and cold buildings at Marsovo Pole (Champ de Mars) no. 7 … “The Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10” … no heating … Puni running around always asking for nails … Kliun quite nervous, like a bridegroom before the wedding. I must admit I didn’t have any previous plan for my, as you now say, “installation”. It was purely accidental. I only knew that the Black Square must be in the top corner. Everything else was irrelevant. While I was hanging my small Suprematist painting here and there, it didn’t occur to me that the photo of this installation would become so famous and be published in hundreds of books, reviews. And today it is even “quoted” in the paintings by one of my colleagues. I don’t remember now who actually took this picture, but it is just a photo, black and white. No colors! I have an impression that this photo is becoming even more important than my Suprematist paintings! This was the major reason I kept on thinking for years to do the same exhibition again.
Since, for obvious reasons, it was not possible to do it in Petrograd, I decided to make “The Last Futurist Exhibition” again exactly 70 years later, Dec. 17, 1985 - Jan. 19, 1986, in a small apartment in the beautiful town of Belgrade. One part of the exhibition was an exact replica of the Petrograd installation. But this time, no papers with titles on the walls, no numbers, no chair. Another part of this exhibition presented some of my recent, neo-Suprematist works: Suprematist icons on ancient reliefs and sculptures. Suprematist icons in needlepoint. I think you can get a better impression from the picture.
I know that for most of you this letter will come as a great surprise, since it is generally believed that I died in 1935! I know … Suetin’s coffin … the great burial procession along the streets of Leningrad … the Black Square on the grave … Yes, there are many people thinking that I died. But, did I?
Seventy years after the Last Futurist Exhibition (1915), Kazimir Malevich staged a reconstruction of the famous St. Petersburg exhibition in an apartment in Belgrade. The reconstruction was made on the basis of the only existing document, the iconic black–and–white photograph that has been reprinted many times in numerous art history books. In a letter signed “Kazimir Malevich (Belgrade, Yugoslavia)” which was published in Art in America magazine in 1986, the artist wrote, “I have an impression that this photo is becoming even more important than my supremacist paintings! This was the major reason I kept on thinking for years to do the same exhibition again. Since, for obvious reasons, it was not possible to do it in Petrograd, I decided to make The Last Futurist Exhibition again exactly 70 years later […] in a small apartment in the beautiful town of Belgrade.”
The Last Futurist Exhibition focuses on the dialectic between the copy and the original, and highlights the copy as something that, besides the parameters of the original work, also contains the idea and act of copying and, as such, may be far more complex. The copy turns the known (the original) into the unknown, showing ambivalence where there seemed to be clarity, and debunks the originality of the original.
By declaring copying as an attitude to art, the artist subverted the foundations of modern art by renouncing the concepts of authenticity and authorship. His reconstructions do not try to falsify and reaffirm the original. They question its identity and examine the conceptual processes that secured its status in the history of art, deconstructing the established art historical narratives along the way. As Marina Gržinić pointed out, these works “explicate the fact that the original itself is nothing more than a universalized copy.”