The abstract logo for the Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, last week was said to be inspired by the work of Kazimir Malevich, the great Russian modernist. But Malevich’s grave has gotten no such respect.
Malevich, who died in 1935, wanted to be buried under a magnificent oak tree in the countryside near Moscow. That grave site was reportedly covered over recently for a new luxury housing complex.
As Sophia Kishkovsky wrote in The Times, a commission that included culture ministry officials concluded last year that the oak was still there and that Malevich’s ashes were still under it. Then, they changed course. A culture official said recently that it was too late to protect the artist’s remains. The developer had already cleared and paved that particular patch, and it was ready for building high-priced homes for high-rolling Muscovites.
Malevich, whose paintings can be seen at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was Russia’s pioneer of geometric abstract art and the founder of the Suprematist movement, which he said was based on “pure artistic feeling.” But too soon, his stark uncompromising lines fell out of step with Socialist Realism and the artistic propaganda of the Stalinist era. When Malevich died, he was out of favor. Now, all is forgiven. The Russian announcement for the G-20 meeting describes the logo as rooted in the traditions of Russian avant-garde art and “a proud period in the country’s rich historical and cultural heritage.”
That pride is understandable, touching on a deep cultural tradition kept alive over the Soviet years by stalwart members of the nation’s intelligentsia. In the new boom-time Russia, art cannot lie in the way of commerce.