EXHIBITIONS IN MÁLAGA – OCTOBER, 2018

The Russian Museum, Málaga, September, 2018 to February, 2019

The Russian Museum, Málaga, September, 2018 to February, 2019

Museo Carmen Thyssen, Málaga, 6th October, 2018 to 3rd March, 2019

Museo Carmen Thyssen, Málaga, 11th October2018 to 13th January, 2019

Museo Picasso, Málaga, 9th October, 2018 to 3rd February, 2019 

reviewed by Jim Burns

The Russian Museum in Málaga continues to come up with some fascinating exhibitions, the latest being one devoted to the work of Kazimir Malevich. He’s perhaps best-known to many people for painting his famous Black Square, which was included in an exhibition in St Petersburg in 1915. Malevich described his work from that period as “Suprematist”, and it’s claimed that it was a “metaphor for an utterly new embodiment of the art of modern times”. Any shock value attached to it has, of course, long since disappeared, and it’s probably of interest now only from the point of view of its place in twentieth-century art history.

But there was more to Malevich than that one iconic work, and the exhibition follows him through his career as he touched on Impressionism, Cézannism, and Futurism. His influence was profound, not only in terms of the effect his paintings, but also because of his positions within various artistic institutions. But that was a role which may have led to him being suspected of “bourgeois tendencies”, among other things, by the new breed of bureaucrats determining what was acceptable as Stalin’s grip on power increased and Socialist Realism became the dominant mode in art. Malevich was imprisoned for a time in the early-1930s, bizarrely on a charge of spying, and one wonders what might have happened to him had he not died in 1935. There is some evidence discernible in his work from the 1930s to indicate that he played down its experimental aspects and adopted a less-controversial stance.

I doubt that David Burliuk is a familiar name, other than perhaps among a few specialists in twentieth-century Russian art. He was born in 1882, and has been called “the father of Russian Futurism”. The Russian Museum has only a small selection of his work on display, perhaps because he left Russia in 1920, spent two years in Japan, and then settled in America, where he died in 1967. As the notes accompanying the exhibition point out, “a considerable part of his legacy is scattered in collections in various countries”.

What is striking about Burliuk is that he seems to have involved himself in almost every avant-garde artistic and literary movement of his time, and he knew numerous painters and poets. He co-wrote, with Mayakovsky, the manifesto, “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste”, and performed as a poet, the aim being to provoke. It’s difficult to arrive at a fair assessment of his capabilities as an artist from the limited number of works in the exhibition, though it’s not hard to realise that he probably made a wise move when he went to Japan. Coming as he did from a reasonably comfortable background , and with his predilection for avant-garde art, he probably wouldn’t have survived very long under Bolshevik rule. An instructive short documentary film helps to illustrate his life and work, or at least that part of it before he left Russia.

It’s worth noting that the Russian Museum still has its exhibition, The Radiant Future: Socialist Realism in Art, until February, 2019. With Stalin playing a central role in many of the paintings, and the emphasis firmly placed on picturing busy but contented workers, the artists involved obviously knew how to produce work that would obtain official approval. Lenin hovers over some scenes, but you won’t find Trotsky in the pictures. They makes a useful contrast to the Malevich and Burliuk displays, and go a long way towards explaining why their work disappeared from view for many years.

Reviving the reputations of artists is something that needs to be done on a regular basis, and it would seem to be the intention of the exhibition of Francisco Iturrino’s paintings at the Museo Carmen Thyssen. Born in Santander in 1864, he spent time in Paris and became friendly with Matisse and the Fauves, and their influence is noticeable in his work He certainly had a penchant for vibrant colours. A painting entitled “Manolas” is striking in this respect, and is one of his more interesting works. With its swirling clashes of colour it captures a lively and attractive scene. 

Iturrino also had a liking for large paintings of female nudes. While they’re eye-catching in some ways, they seemed to me to be mostly empty of any positive passion. The women appear to lack any real character, despite in certain cases (a group in a bath house, for example) being supposedly cheerful and active. Iturrino is claimed as “a highly original artist”, but I didn’t understand that from what I saw. His work is not unattractive in general, but it didn’t comes across as having any great individuality in terms of breaking new ground. This may be a case of a modestly talented painter being accorded more attention than he deserves.

Henri Matisse’s “Jazz” sequence has a place in art history as an example of how an elderly and ailing artist refused to stop creating and produced “brightly coloured paper cut-outs”, his stated intention being to “draw with scissors”. I’ve seen the sequence more than once, but this viewing finally convinced me of its qualities. Perhaps it was the straightforward way it was mounted on the walls, and perhaps even because a tasteful piano could be heard playing jazz in the background. I don’t usually agree with music being played in galleries, but it proved appropriate here. Whatever, something came together for me in a manner that hadn’t happened before.

Picasso’s South: Andalusian References places him firmly in the area that helped to shape him as an   artist. With a selection of his paintings ranging from his early day in Malaga, through his Cubist advances in Paris, to some later work, set alongside paintings by Goya, Velasquez, Murillo, Juan Gris, Maria Blanchard, and more, one can see how he was influenced and, in turn, influenced others. There are also displays of archeological artefacts that he probably saw as a child. And there is a film of a modern recreation of the 1919 performance of Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered  Hat that Picasso was involved in designing the costumes and the set for. It’s often difficult for me to arrive at an overall assessment of Picasso’s work. Some of it simply doesn’t interest or excite me. But there’s no doubt that the exhibition has great value.