New York

Ivan Kliun

Matignon Gallery

This show furthered the exposure of New York audiences to the rigorous, sophisticated sensibility of Ivan Kliun, a leading member of the Russian avant-garde whose work is still relatively unknown here. Born in Kiev in 1870, he belonged chronologically to the generation of Russian Post-Impressionists and Symbolists represented respectively by Alexandre Benois and Victor Borissov-Mussatov, both of whom were also born in that year. Kliun, however, after studying art in Kiev, Moscow, and Warsaw and going through a Symbolist phase, in about 1910 chose to ally himself esthetically with the next, younger generation, the so-called “avant-garde.” It included Kasimir Malevich, Michel Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexandra Exter, Olga Rosanova, and Lyubov Popova; with these artists, Kliun went the route of the “cutting edge,” and like them his interests focused on the most daring expression of the day, Cubism and Futurism. His enthusiastic response to the far-reaching formal and esthetic implications of those Western movements are to be found in the inventive paintings, reliefs, and sculptures he showed in important group shows of the Russian avant-garde, including the ones held by the “Union of Youth” and“Knave of Diamonds” groups.

Again like his colleagues, by 1916 Kliun had plunged into abstraction. The earlier of the modest drawings in this show, which came from a sketchbook he kept from about 1916 to 1922, belong to his Suprematist/Non-objective phase. Each measures no more than a couple of inches, but the compositions of simple colored shapes are representative of Kliun’s passionate and personal quest for truth in art. This resulted in what he called in 1919 “the art of color,” which he was careful to differentiate from Malevich’s Suprematism. Among his favorite devices were diagonally directed, off-centered compositions, irregular and multicolored shapes, and tonal contrasts. He aimed also to fine tune the depth, weight, and density of different-colored masses; in one drawing a large, red, circular segment bisecting a smaller black bar seems fully supported through the strength of the under color. An intuitive feeling for color and a clear-cut commitment to an ideal concept emanate from this body of work; the latter quality seems to foretell the spiritual edge in the softer, cosmic imagery evident in Kliun’s mature abstractions.

Ronny H. Cohen