Lazar Khidekel

Saidye Bronfman Centre

For young artists such as Lazar Khidekel, Kazimir Malevich’s doctrines were full of promise. The October Revolution provided the political framework for Constructivism’s utopian disengagement from mimesis: it was pulled into the orbit of Malevich’s Planits, ca. 1920, and Gustav Klutsis’ “flying cities”. As an architect, Khidekel created projects for floating cities and cities built on piles, the foundations (terra firma or water) and hypothetical constructions of which were designed to integrate nature’s organic and harmonious movements within their schema. While virtually ignored as an artist, Khidekel, long after he had left the Vitebsk of the ’20s far behind, continued to apply Malevich’s Suprematist notions to architectural projects in Russia.

Culled from the Claude and René Boulé collection in Paris by curator Antoine Blanchette, and comprising some 150 works on paper dating from 1920 to 1924, this show provided remarkable evidence of how truly different each artist’s individual interpretation of the Suprematist message really was. Mostly miniature in scale, these works in watercolor and India ink on paper are surprising precisely because their geometric configurations of space and color, and their formal relations are at once less severe and more gestural than Malevich’s. In some of these pieces, rectangles and lines are stacked one on top of the other like synergetic pie plates, each at variance with the next; in others, groupings of rectangles are spread like fans of pure color variation, contained as if by some invisible, centrifugal force. The rhythmic purity and eccentric orchestration of geometries in certain pieces seem more akin to Gustav Holst’s The Planets, 1914–16, than to Malevich’s landmark White Square an White, ca. 1918. The edges, outlines, and freehand brushwork in these pieces have none of the hermetic precision one would expect from a Futurist ideologue, easily breaking out of that bubble of absolutism. Constrained only by the physics of the material, Khidekel’s abstractions poetically explore forms and colors. The presumed objectivity and universalism of Malevich’s Suprematist message—that his forms have “nothing in common with the techniques of the earth’s surface . . . have nothing to do with the Earth any more . . . can be analyzed and studied like any planet or a whole system”—is apparent here too, but brought closer to earth: the possibilities of the canvas are never really exhausted. It makes one wonder whether Khidekel, in practice, ever really did cross the boundaries of Suprematism, as he professed to.

With the demise of communism and the weakening of our belief in technical rationalism, the historic urgency of Suprematism’s utopian mission may have lost some of its social import, but these works attest to the spirit of invention and naive expectation that spurred these artists. Because the economy of Khidekel’s design pushes gesture ever so slightly past pure design relations, his works seem closer to Mikhail Larionov’s passionate affirmations of life than to Malevich’s outright rebuttal of objective representation. Khidekel’s paintings are less an exercise in Suprematist “objectivity” than a process of poetic construction.

John K. Grande