Retreat of the Vanguard – Weekend

Retreat of the Vanguard – Weekend

The Russian Museum has just completed the exhibition “Nikolai Suetin. Ilya Chashnik, who presented the public with new materials and the old truth: the revolutions of young art are made in a revolutionary environment and die in a reactionary one.

Text: Anna Tolstova

From the first steps, the Russian avant-garde was associated with the image of a young artist, by virtue of his very youth full of revolution and nihilism, a thirst for overthrowing the old and building a new world. This idea is directly reflected in the name of the first large association of avant-garde artists of the Russian Empire: in 1909, the Union of Youth began to take shape in St. Petersburg, which began exhibition activities in the spring of the following year. True, one of the initiators of the creation of the Youth Union, Mikhail Matyushin, was under fifty by that time, and some of his closest associates were well over thirty, but youth was understood as a certain state of the creative spirit, and most of the participants in the society belonged to youth by no means. not in a figurative sense. No matter how tragically the individual fates of these or those “Unionists” turned out, in a large historical perspective, their revolution was lucky to coincide with another, which completely absorbed all the fuss of the old world, and partly due to this coincidence so radically change the history of world culture. Mikhail Matyushin, Pavel Filonov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Kazimir Malevich - everyone around whom the most radical schools of the young in soul and body of art would rally around in Petrograd-Leningrad of the 1920s took part in the exhibitions of the Union of Youth. But by the time when from all the movie screens and from all the radio speakers of the country rushed "The young are everywhere, we have a road", Soviet art no longer needed their students, the avant-garde youth of the second call.

Nikolai Suetin (1897-1954) and Ilya Chashnik (1902-1929) are rightfully considered the closest and most devoted students of Malevich - in the famous Ginghukov photograph of 1924, which captured some kind of meeting, they are sitting on the teacher's left and right, so that the whole scene seems the central fragment of the Last Supper. What can I say - the apostles: both believed in Malevich back in Vitebsk, being students of the Vitebsk Folk Art School; both joined the "party of Suprematism", the UNOVIS group ("Affirmative of the New Art") and, probably, sported jackets with black square patches on the sleeve; both, together with party activists, went to Petrograd for a teacher; both worked in the formal-theoretical, Malevich department of the legendary GINHUK (State Institute of Artistic Culture) to bring the light of truth to the city and the world; both witnessed the debacle. Only Chashnik, who died very young, more than five years before the assassination of Kirov, observed the destruction of GINKhUK, which began in the summer of 1926 with the article “The monastery is supplied by the state” in Leningradskaya Pravda. And Suetin, who died a year after Stalin's death, could observe the defeat of the entire avant-garde - the arrests, imprisonments and executions of artists and poets of his circle, the persecution and ordeal of the teacher, which led to his, in fact, rather early death. The monument on the grave of Malevich in Nemchinovka was made by Suetin.

Meanwhile, the beloved apostles can hardly be called favorites of art criticism: it is customary to joke about Suetin and Chashnik that even the best experts do not distinguish one from the other, or to lament how Malevich’s authoritarianism had a detrimental effect on his closest followers, who allegedly completely lost their creative individuality. The exhibition, made on the basis of graphics and documents from the so-called Anna Leporskaya archive - materials saved by Malevich's student and secretary and found in the Russian Museum six years ago, showed that art history prejudices are empty. And not at all because the viewer, who has carefully studied the exhibits in the six halls of the museum, can say with confidence where Suetin's hand is in the sketches of the 1920s, and where Chashnik's, or suddenly begins to find differences in the Suprematist handwriting of the teacher and his best students. No, the differences (at least in the eyes of a non-specialist) are almost invisible. But an attentive viewer can guess that the task of Suprematism, in fact, is to destroy the petty-bourgeois artistic individuality - to unconditionally submit to the method and completely dissolve in the collective design work. By the way, class prejudices were also overcome in this collective work - in full accordance with the social ideals of the Soviet system: Chashnik was a boy from a poor Jewish family who did not really finish school, he ended up in Vitebsk as a student and apprentice in an optical and mechanical workshop ; Suetin was from the nobility, studied at the gymnasium and the Cadet Corps, in 1914 he was drafted into the army, he ended up in Vitebsk on military service; UNOVIS really turned them, who spoke the same language, into people of the future classless society.

Squares, circles, crosses and rectangles, shifted like the world after 1917 and the final "victory over the Sun" - according to the designs of porcelain, glass, fabrics, furniture, book covers, logos, advertising stands, wall painting in interiors and "architectonic" architectural structures made by Suetin and Chashnik, it is clear that this school had every reason to become the “Soviet Bauhaus”. To transform existing reality into a Suprematist Gesamtkunstwerk, so that a pair of tea, a glass, an inkwell, a curtain, a cabinet or a desk radiate Malevich's ideas in every home. There were reasons - there was no economic base and political engagement. Chashnik, who died at the age of twenty-seven, did not have time to fully find out to what extent the Soviet state did not need their efforts. Suetin, who served as the chief artist of the Leningrad Porcelain Factory and designed Soviet pavilions at international exhibitions, found some use for his great design talent. Even during the years of the blockade, he spent them in Leningrad, camouflaging the city and decorating the seditious exhibition "The Heroic Defense of Leningrad." The images of bombed-out buildings, drawn from life, will resemble architectons, women from the peasant cycle, which he began following his teacher at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s, will contemplate the “fires of war” or transform into allegories of Victory. Remaining faithful to his teacher, he will try to cross the ideas of Suprematism with the post-war triumphal style - it seems that in all Soviet art of the second half of the 1940s there was nothing more terrible, not in an aesthetic, but in an existential sense. This is not a cube with a square over the grave in Nemchinovka, these are projects of Suprematist vase-architectons with portraits of Stalin that will become a genuine tombstone of Malevich.

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