As the eyes of the art world have again turned towards Russia and its rich art history, Phantom of Malevich brings together a series of paintings from the early 1990s in which Leonid Lerman explores the art historical impact of Kasimir Malevich who, like Marcel Duchamp, dramatically changed the course of modern art. Lerman refers to Malevich as a key figure, “the prophet of a new aesthetic” who “fundamentally changed the direction of the development of art in the twentieth century and gave it an absolutely new thrust.”
Classically trained as a sculptor in St. Petersburg, Lerman takes inspiration from the works of Monet, van Gogh, Hopper, Savrasov, Levitan and Vasiliev, also integrating elements of paintings by Malevich – the spiritual force behind the Russian avant-garde. In Lerman’s hands, this process of transformation becomes sculptural with images having near three-dimensional elements. Lerman believes artists are ‘God’s eyes’ having been put on earth to glimpse something invisible, feel the unexplored and enlighten others through their extraordinary vision.
In Appearance (1992), an armless ‘Baba’ (peasant woman) rises out of a borrowed landscape depicting the empty Vladimirskaya Road; the juxtaposition of the two works becomes a fulfilment of Lerman’s vision; “without this woman the road was empty and the woman, without this road, was lacking something really important”.
Central to this exhibition, the diptych, Prayer (1992) juxtaposes an archetypal Russian landscape copied from the 19th century painter, Isaak Levitan, while carved wooden ‘Muzhiks’ (peasants), taken from the work of Malevich, stand on the floor, establishing relationships between different moments from the past and exploring the condition of the Russian soul. Here, Malevich is not only the source of inspiration for the works but also an actor on the stage of the installation.
Phantom of Malevich stresses the power of art as a constant source of spirituality and a matrix for new beginnings. The show title stems from Lerman’s consideration of Malevich as a ghost strolling around the world, remaining with us as a phantom as well as a prophet; his ghost is the world view of a new set of artistic values; “…looking back in history, one can clearly realise the importance of Malevich to art in general, and for Russian art in particular.”
Born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1953, Leonid Lerman studied at Odessa before receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree from Leningrad in 1979. Having been taught the classical disciplines and Soviet Realism but denied any contact with Modern and Postmodern movements, Lerman emigrated to the United States in 1980, unprepared for the diversity of the American art world, with nothing more than a suitcase of carving tools and the history, myths, literature and folklore, which were his movable domain. A winner of the prestigious James Wilburt Johnson Sculpture Award, over the past thirty years he has had numerous solo exhibitions at the McKee Gallery in New York among others including the C.A.S.E. Museum of Russian Contemporary Art (Jersey City), Paulo Salvador Gallery (New York) and Duke University Museum of Art (Durham, North Carolina). He has recently participated in Adventures of the Black Square exhibition at The State Russian Museum in St Petersburg. He lives and works in New York.