PreviousNext

Suprematism Revisited

At the Center for Architecture by • 03/19

Suprematism, an art movement of the early 20th century conceptualized by Kazimir Malevich, still rankles many skeptics of modern art. But the key to appreciating these pieces is that they are theory manifested; they are born of a way of seeing that is inextricable from a social philosophy. In the case of Malevich, the famous “Black Square” rejected materialism, instead embracing a “pure feeling.” For him, the making of art was a spiritual experience, and that feeling couldn’t be contained for the cursory glances of the casual observer.

Of Malevich’s students, Lazar Khidekel was the only one to bend the Suprematist belief system into architecture. Surprisingly, he is not very well known. On 3.11.14, Khidekel’s daughter-in-law, Dr. Regina Khidekel, president of the Lazar Khidekel Society, introduced a large audience to him. Others familiar with his work – Daniel Libeskind, AIA, Dr. Jean-Louis Cohen from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, Dr. Maria Kokkori from the Art Institute of Chicago, and Anna Bokov, an architect in Moscow and a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Architecture – contributed to the discussion.

Khidekel’s transition from artist to architect is an interesting one, and somewhat unexpected. The Constructivists – also active in Russia and essentially contemporaneous to the Suprematists – were interested in tangible objects that could be functionally used to support a new, sometimes fantastical, society (see Vladimir Tatlin’s Tower). The Suprematists, on the other hand, dealt in abstractions and pure forms, seeking to crystallize the values of a utopian society. Architecture, on its surface, might seem an awkward means for mapping Suprematist ideals in large-scale physical form. However, Khidekel – Malevich’s star pupil – was able to achieve this balance; his “architectons” are floating 3-D constructions embodying Suprematist form and style.

Kokkori pointed out that Khidekel lived until 1986, and although he was the teacher, his cohort of students did not outlive him; he had to carry the “Suprematist torch” even as art moved on. This might help explain why, was Cohen noted, Khidekel never came to be featured in any “grand narrative” of Modern Art. Simple geometries that belied social revolution – a bedrock of what we think of when we think of “modern” – never invoke Khidekel’s name. Or, perhaps, seeking to unite disparate realms of theory (art) and practice (architecture) – as a “visionary formalist,” to use Bokov’s term – Khidekel’s unusual buildings did not translate and thrive beyond their context.

Gazing at white squares or an entire wall painted different shades of black, it’s easy to forget that these artists were revolutionary. Swiftly changing ideas at the turn of the century rippled and then reverberated through every discipline from art to physics. In the wake of Albert Einstein’s publication of a series of groundbreaking theories in 1905 that radically shifted the socially accepted notion of space and time, artists grappled with challenging modern ideas in their work. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque famously explored their subjects cubically, fragmenting limbs and faces as a means of presenting a three-dimensional subject – now operating in a newly understood four-dimensional world – on a two-dimensional canvas. Khidekel was caught up in these rumblings, too. Libeskind went so far to call him a “prophet” for this new world as the artist/architect thought about creating works in a non-religious context.

While there is sometimes a grander social mission – or at least an ethos or goal – at play in many architectural projects today, it’s easy to lose sight as the medium demands nitty-gritty tasks. Khidekel’s work almost a century ago effectively straddled two realms: abstract, philosophical space that art seeks to untangle, and the technical aspects that building necessitates. Indeed, his built projects, such as a radio theater and educational institutions, are Suprematist constructions come to life: stunning, extreme orthogonals that sought to realize idealistic programming.

This adherence to ideals and celebration of pure form, Libeskind mused, could be “what’s missing in architecture today.” As he aptly noted, “We can draw a million squares [in CAD] without really loving them.” Compare this to Malevich, Popova, and Khidekel in their studios laboring, agonizing, and contemplating different shades of black, the texture of white, how a picture changed with adjusting the angles of simple shapes on a canvas. Perhaps the skeptics trolling MoMA would do well to come to a deeper understanding of “the black square,” and Lazar Khidekel of the Suprematists could gain the wider recognition he deserves. ‘

Claire Webb studied astronomy and philosophy at Vassar College, but an interest in art history and architecture led her to the position of Marketing Director at Edelman Sultan Knox Wood / Architects.

Event: Celebration of the 110th Anniversary of Lazar Khidekel: An artist, visionary architect, designer, theoretician, and a pioneer of environmentalism (1904-1986)
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.11.14
Speakers: Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director (Introduction); Daniel Libeskind, AIA, Founder, Studio Daniel Libeskind; Dr. Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Chair for the History of Architecture at New York University Institute of Fine Arts; Dr. Maria Kokkori, Research Fellow, The Art Institute of Chicago; Anna Bokov, Ph.D. Program, Yale School of Architecture; and Dr. Regina Khidekel, President, Lazar Khidekel Society; Roman Khidekel, and Mark Khidekel (closing remarks)
Organizers: Center for Architecture and the Russian American Cultural Center

Comments are closed.

Share Your Thoughts On Architectural Education Editor's Note
Michael Sorkin, Principal, Michael Sorkin Studio, with Michael Murphy, Co-founder and Executive Director, MASS Design Group
Infrastructure, Politics, and the Dilemma of Donald Trump At the Center for Architecture
Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks outside Trump Tower.
Policy Pulse: New York Elected Officials Weigh in on Trump Administration Policy Pulse
New York City's Roadmap to 80x50
Roadmap to 80×50 At the Center for Architecture
Sponsors and organizers of the 2016 Ratensky Lecture with Rosanne Haggerty. (l-r) Peter Bafitis, AIA; Jennifer Sage, FAIA; Gary Solomon; Rosanne Haggerty; Theodore Liebman, FAIA; and Fernando Villa, AIA.
2016 Samuel Ratensky Lecture: Rosanne Haggerty At the Center for Architecture
LA Gensler office, sample rendering from within the Gensler VR app.
Brave New Worlds: The Impacts of Virtual Reality on Design At the Center for Architecture
The Creative Architect: Inside the great midcentury personality study by Pierluigi Serraino, AIA
Oculus Quick-Take: The Creative Architect: Inside the great midcentury personality study Podcast
1 - Memorial Honors Victims of the AIDS Epidemic
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
01.27.17: Call for Entries: AIANY 2017 Design Awards
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“Authenticity and Innovation,”
through 01.14.17.
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Message from the Executive Director: 2016 Elections From the Executive Director
We thank Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA, for her dedication and support of AIANY and the Center for Architecture.
Oculus Evolving Center News
Office of the City Clerk
Lobby Law Update Policy Pulse
E.R. Butler & Co, on view in "Authenticity and Innovation."
Center Mentions Center News
Congratulations to our 2016 Heritage Ball honorees! The Rudin Family, Alice Tisch, and Thomas Phifer, FAIA (not shown: Senator Charles E. Schumer).
Design Matters: 2016 Heritage Ball Reports from the Field
Juror Favorite: "Lean on Me" by Dattner Architects
Canstruction NYC Reports from the Field
SITU Studio won the Pritzkerpumpkin for their concrete pumpkin void.
The Most Gourdgeous of the Gourds: Pumpkitecture! At the Center for Architecture
Speakers and organizers of "Global Migration, Refugees, and a Role for Design."
Antidotes to Xenophobia: Win/win Design Ideas for the Displaced At the Center for Architecture
A representative from the Northeastern School of Architecture + Art speaks to a prospective student and his father.
2016 Architecture and Design College Fair Learning by Design
Eric J. Pick, AIA, 1922-2016
Eric J. Pick, AIA, Retired Partner, Warner, Burns, Toan & Lunde (1922-2016) In Memoriam
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“Reading Room: A Catalog of New York City’s Branch Libraries,” through 01.07.16
On View On View
10.25.16: In conjunction with the Center for Architecture’s exhibition, “Authenticity and Innovation,” Architectural Record Editor-in-Chief Cathleen McGuigan moderated a discussion on the inherent value of older buildings with Claire Weisz, FAIA, Principal-in-Charge, WXY architecture + urban design; Constantine Kontakosa, Professor of Urban Informatics and Deputy Director of the Quantified Research Facility, NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress and Tandon School of Engineering; and Charles Bendit, Co-chief Executive Officer, Taconic Investment Group.
Sighted Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
Payette: George Washington Milken Institute of Public Health, Washington, DC
Announcing the Winners of the 2016 AIANY COTE Awards Names in the News
Courtesy of Elizabeth Felicella
5 Questions for Photographer Elizabeth Felicella On View
New York City Council expands reach of the Green, Greater Buildings Plan.
City Expands Building Energy Plan Policy Pulse
Arthur Rosenblatt Memorial Lecture: David Chipperfield
David Chipperfield’s Arthur Rosenblatt Memorial Lecture At the Center for Architecture
Suzanne Stephens, Hon. AIANY, Deputy Editor, Architectural Record in conversation with Pierluigi Serraino, AIA, architect, author, and educator
Oculus Book Review: The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study by Pierluigi Serraino Book Reviews
The girls took turns presenting their own design work to the group at the end of the program.
Women in Architecture Committee Reaches Out to the Next Generation Uncategorized
FIGMENT: What Is This? Why Is Nothing for Sale? Why Is Everyone Smiling? by David Koren.
Oculus Quick-Take: FIGMENT: What is this? Why is Nothing for Sale? Why is Everyone Smiling? Podcast
Courtesy of Dezeen Jobs
Save 50% on Your Next Dezeen Jobs Advert Of Interest
1 - New Academic Buildings are Changing the Face of Manhattanville
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
"Authenticity and Innovation," through 01.14.16
On View On View
10.18.16: Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief of Dwell; Julio Salcedo, Chair of the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York; Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, Principal, Jaklitsch|Gardner; Valerie Kennedy, Senior Vice President of Diversity, Innovation and Strategy at the NYC Economic Development Corporation; Jack Travis, FAIA, Principal, Jack Travis, FAIA, Architect; and Tonja Adair, AIA, Principal, Splice Design, convened at the Center for Architecture to discuss why diversity in design continues to pose a challenge.
Sighted Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIANY and Center for Architecture
Archtober Itinerary Word of Mouth
STUDIOS Architecture's winning cake: Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan.
High-Calorie High Rises: The Great Architectural Bake-Off Reports from the Field
The AIANYS board enjoys an architect-led tour of the Algonquin Building, originally designed by S. Gifford Slocum, during the 2016 AIA New York State Saratoga Design Conference.
In Architecture, Collaboration is Key Reports from the Field
Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP, accepts the 2016 AIANYS President's Award.
AIA New York State President’s Award: Green is Beautiful Word of Mouth
AIA Presidential Profiles.
AIA Presidential Candidate Profiles Policy Pulse
1 - A New Museum Has Got Lady Liberty’s Back
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines