Alfréd Kemény’s “Notes to the Russian Artists’ Exhibition in Berlin” (1923)
Translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki.
From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,
1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002).
• • •
Suprematism and Constructivism, the two most significant developments in recent Russian art represent one of the way-stations of progress along the road that leads, in art and society alike, from the isolation of individualism to the universality of the collective. From a formal point of view, Suprematism has a tremendous historical significance. In the first and third phases of its evolution it succeeded in paring down the painting to the purest and most objective relationships of its two-dimensional elements (form and color). In form this led to the square, and to the directional contrasts of movement along the vertical and horizontal axes, as well as along the two intersecting diagonals; in color, it examined the interrelation between black and white, and a uniformly white surface. This significance however is by now mostly historical, for as an artistic worldview relevant to the actualities of contemporary life, the metaphysical dynamism of Suprematism has become as obsolete as Futurism, which it is a continuation of. During the second stage of its evolution, instead of further developing the architectonic potential of the square as a planar form (this is what Mondrian did in Holland, independently, and at the same time as Malevich, when he started out from the square as the simplest, most objective and least psychically loaded form), Suprematism turned away from the laws of two-dimensionality and, starting out from the white ground of the picture as infinite space, endeavored the create the illusion of the dynamic conflict of cosmic energies. As such, the dematerialized, illusionistic metaphysics of Suprematism differentiate it from the objectively constructive demands of contemporary life that will find their appropriate artistic expression in the collective urban architecture of the future. “Unovis,” the school founded by Malevich in Vitebsk, was based on the laws of the plane, but it has rigidified into an architectonic system consisting exclusively of diagonals, and became incapable of further growth. As opposed to the metaphysical nature of Suprematism, a development in a realist direction is signaled by the Russian Constructivists, who, contemporaneously with the work of building a new society in Russia, place the emphasis on creative organizing and design activities, and use industrial materials (iron, copper, brass, glass, etc.) by setting them, firmly structured into each other, within physical space, by emphasizing the laws inherent in the materials and their factural relationships. Constructivism is the correct path to take, but in Russia it has come to a standstill in a technological naturalism that consists of illustrating existing mechanical contraptions. This is only natural in a country that is industrially the least developed, while it possesses the most advanced artistic culture after France. Thus although from an agitative point of view the Russian Constructivists’ romantic struggle for industry as opposed to art is important, this is nonetheless a phenomenon with a limited, local interest. As material constructions the Russian Constructivist works merely stand alone in physical space, without ever attempting to organize a specific space. The road of the Hungarian Constructivists leads in this direction, past their Russian counterparts.
The Russian exhibition in Berlin could have been extraordinarily important if, limiting itself to the results of recent, post-Suprematist Russian art, it would have chosen to illustrate the conflicts of contemporary art and life by means of Suprematist and Constructivist works. Instead the Russian exhibition lacked a specific standpoint and had an eclectic air about it, by incorporating vast quantities of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in addition to Suprematist and Constructivist ones.  From an aesthetic point of view the exhibition contained isolated works of a high artistic quality, but it failed to represent the constructive aims of today’s Russian art that transcend general aesthetics.
[Originally published as “Jegyzetek az orosz mũvészek berlini kiállitáshoz,” in Egység (February A, 1923)]