Branko Ve Poljanski’s “Through the Russian Exhibition” (1923)
Translated from the Polish by Maja Starčević. From Between
Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,
1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002).
• • •
I part with Marc Chagall. A strapping young man, almost a boy. I find myself at the Russian exhibition. I won’t talk about the older ones — we have little interest in them. The Suprematists are undoubtedly in the majority and seem the most powerful ones here.
Malevich. The great founder of Suprematism. An artist, a mathematician, a physicist, a painter, a sculptor, a revolutionary anti-bourgeois — a Russian without a soul — a Russian with spirit.
A great Russian artistic personality with spirit. He lays new ground — using new elements to construct a new world — a world of art.
Art of the past is an art that belongs to the religion of monks and priests — it had been made for churches.
Malevich’s art, created to satisfy the highest demands of our time — has been made for factories!
A memento! What these Russian artists have created so far, untouched by European influences, is of the utmost importance for European art and culture. The strongest representative of this independent, non-European Russianism is none other than Malevich. His most basic colors are used to construct a form which is sharp, clear, mobile, and eternal. This form has no object as its model. He has reached the highest level of pure creation in his elemental Suprematist painting Red Square.
A frame, a red square, and nothing else. This painting made me realize that the color red has acquired its most intense expression. That color is both a pre-red and an eternal red.
Malevich commands this exhibition not only with his works, but also with the works of the other Suprematists who have mostly (almost all of them) been created from his rib. New worlds, hanging on these damp German walls due to a strange quirk of history, are waiting for a German “samaritan” to take them down and in return give a crust of bread.
(The proceeds are intended for the starving people in Russia!)
Damn! Nobody is buying.
My eyes stare. Why can’t I do anything help?
(I remember, Maiakovskii took off for Paris half an hour ago.)
So after Malevich, a whole avant-garde of Suprematists and Constructivists follows.
(Not all will agree to be called by their first names for quite obvious reasons — personal vanity!)
Lissitzky. The second Suprematist, Constructivist, spectral specialist, and explorer of ultra-violet rays. He is searching for a way to apply Suprematist painting to a true realization of visionary worlds, made real as concrete objects; he is looking  for a way to apply this kind of painting to life, to things: a bridge, a monument, a submarine, an airplane, a train, and others.
Each Constructivist painting by master Lissitzky seems to be a blueprint for airborne trains in the fifty-fifth century. We find the psychological genesis for this kind of painting in the fact that Russia truly is a country which needs trains above all else — airborne, ground-bound and underground trains. Lissitzky expands on Malevich’s Suprematism so that it takes on a great concept and momentum. There are so many levers, traversals, arches and wheels on his paintings that it seems to be a construction for the great world of the future which is just around the corner. And no country has been so devastated as Lissitzky’s homeland — Russia.
Rozanova. The third Suprematist, a woman of many talents, not the least of which is applying her feminine powers to Suprematism. She has produced quite a number of works which are decent, but she has no elemental force. She gravitates toward decoration. Undoubtedly, judging by her works, there is much in her that is masculine. Unfortunately, she is dead already.
Constructivism could also be termed — Suprema-sculpture.
Tatlin. A first of these (sensational!) Constructivists, at the same time monumental, he dematerializes the value of gold. He creates objects that are generally individual. His works are sculptures which not a single masturbating aestheticist could ever use for any kind of a decoration.
There is one great decoration created by Tatlin (not counting his stage decorations!) that will become a decoration of all the Russians. I am talking about a sculpture already known to us (see the Russian edition of Zenit, no. 17-18). Tatlin has created a special type of plasticity: counter-relief.
Great pan-cosmic joy surges through my soul as I experience the air’s rhythm in the construction of space embodied in one of these Tatlin counter-reliefs. It helps me feel the rumbling bang of the revolution, and I can see how he ridicules the decorations found in old salons, as well as the behavior of new artistic objects and their mechanics, serpentine lines, surface movement and energy of eternal existence. Tatlin has a very strong personality.
Rodchenko. His construction in space is especially interesting (see the Russian edition of Zenit.) Rodchenko is the Russian Archimedes. Symbolically (although Symbolism is completely absent from this), this is a scale of contemporary Russia. There is quiet equilibrium in Rodchenko’s construction. No kind of force, neither that produced by cosmic laws, nor those produced artificially, can ever disturb this equilibrium. Meteors are not so common anymore.
Gabo. A Constructivist-descriptive sculptor. A glass sculptor. Organization of diagonals, circles, ellipses, parabolas, hyperbolas — and all these lines move in space to create the compact form of a great construction — projectiles. The constructor is successful in creating within us the rhythm of the object which also keeps its own time. These works are not only spatial, dimensional. They are works of a sculptural machine with its own forces and its own atmospheric rhythm.
You can see the basis for the future creation of monumentally descriptive plasticity. This plasticity of the future will serve as bridges, radiotelegraphic towers, monuments, fast electric trains, etc.
Besides Suprematists and Constructivists (who are the same but just a tiny bit different!) who are the strongest and the most Russian at this exhibition, there is also a whole pleiade of Cézannists, Van Goghists, Hodlerists, Cubists, Picassoists, Braqueists, Expressionists, Impressionists, Depressionists, Dadaists, and others.
Chagall. One of the strongest representatives of German and world Expressionism has only five small water colors and drawings in this exhibition. We do not need to  discuss him in terms of this exhibition, because he is scheduled to have his own collective exhibition just after this one, at Unter den Linden.
Burliuk’s value as an expressionist is not as high as that of Chagall, and Boguslavskaia is a decorator as well and a fan of bright colors with a specifically feminine character. Perhaps this doesn’t have much to do with new art.
Archipenko has presented only four sculptures. The reason is that this exhibition is supposed to show an overview of what has been created in Russia and not outside of Russia in the last few years. Archipenko has lived outside of Russia for quite a while, and he lives in Berlin now. He owns a private academy, where I have often visited this great master who has lately been prone to the weakness of stressing that he is not a Russian but a — Ukrainian. The most important part of his work is his talent in using materials (glass, steel, wood, aluminum, color). All of this leaves an effective, optical impression in a Cubist space. He has come up with so many effects that they even became his style — concave sculpture.
Furthermore, his sculptural painting — skupltomalerei — is already well known. It is quite a happy synthesis of sculpture and painting.
But let me bring this to a close. Zenit has to economize — stage decorations have been put on show as well and are dominated by: Tatlin, Altman and Exter. Altman is superior by number and by concept of his work, since this is probably his main trade. He constructs the stage as a world outside of which nothing exists.
Gospodi pomiluy! Gospodi pomiluy! [Lord have mercy! Lord have mercy!]
• • •
[P.S. We bring you this Berlin essay by Ve Poljanski now, although it was supposed to come out last year. However, we’ve had technical difficulties with our journal, which has had the bad luck of having to go on a diet due to money constraints — therefore, we bring you the essay in this number although we feel that, again, due to lack of space, it isn’t plastic enough. In the sea of Latins, let the Slavs be heard once in a while! — The Editorial Board.]
[Originally published as “Kroz rusku izložbu u berlinu,” in Zenit vol. 3, no. 22 (March 1923)]