Isadora Duncan, creator of modern dance


This video says about itself:

Glimpses of Isadora Duncan on film

28 May 2016

Many people have posted on Isadora Duncan on You Tube.

Some, the footage of her rapturously executing the final few steps of an outdoor performance.

Others, photographs of her dancing, images that curiously seem to capture some of the dynamism and modernness of her movement.

There is also disputed footage described by some as Isadora dancing at the Parthenon. Given that the Greek ideal was one of her primary sources of inspiration, the temple in Athens would be a likely place for film to be shot. And certainly there are photographs of Duncan in dance pose at the Acropolis. However, the temple in this footage here is obviously not in Athens, as it is low in altitude and there is sea in the background. And there is no reason to suppose the film is of Isadora herself – so perhaps a disciple, following in her footsteps.

And there’s footage of Isadora on board of a ship with the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, whom she married in 1922.

Finally and rather morbidly I came across French newsreel footage of the car in which Isadora’s two children met their deaths in 1913 when the car they were traveling in plunged into the Seine in Paris. The talking head over this footage rather gruesomely comments ‘Voyons les enfants’!

All these resources are spread about and seem to justify a post putting them all together.

By Dana Naomy Mills in Britain:

Dancing to a Bolshevik tune

Saturday 4th November 2017

Dana Naomy Mills reflects on how the great dance innovator ISADORA DUNCAN was inspired by her time in the first workers’ state

TO SAY that Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was the creator of modern dance is no exaggeration.

Her pioneering techniques, which broke with the rigid conventions of classical ballet, have inspired choreographers and dancers until this very day and her influence can be seen in the work of Pina Bausch, Martha Graham and Frederick Ashton, among many others.

From her early years as an artist, Duncan was a rebellious spirit. Refusing to accept rules in dance — and life — she discarded ballet shoes and tutus in favour of barefoot movement and loose-fitting costumes.

For Duncan, dance came from the soul and her style of free and natural movement was inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an American-inspired athleticism.

Born in San Francisco and raised in a poverty-stricken family, Duncan was always aware of her surroundings and social justice. “If my art is symbolic of any one thing, it is symbolic of the freedom of woman and her emancipation of the hidebound conventions that are the warp and woof of New England puritanism,” she once said.

After spending time in London and Europe performing to great acclaim and teaching, she was drawn to the monumental events occurring in Russia, a turning point in her own life. In 1921, at the invitation of the first Soviet People’s Commissar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky, she arrived in Russia. She refused to accept money for her art — Duncan saw the goal of her work in Russia to bring beauty and the new dance to the new world being built.

“Adieu, then, inequality, injustice and the brutality of the Old World,” she wrote at the conclusion of her autobiography just before she left for Russia, “with all the energy of my being, disappointed in the attempts to realise any of my art visions in Europe, I was ready to enter the ideal domain of communism.”

In Russia, Duncan encountered some of the biggest figures of the revolution. Lenin watched her dance to the Internationale with admiration and she danced in front of the grandmother of German communism, Clara Zetkin. She bonded with the feminist-communist revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai over a shared bottle of vodka.

Duncan — motto: “No limits!” — saw dance as a powerful educational mechanism, stating that: “A free spirit can only exist in a freed body.” At the same time, she did not want her art to be “translated” or mediated. “I am not a politician,” she stated. “I am an artist. But I will try in my dancing to help America to understand the magnificent spirit of Russia”.

In bringing dance centre stage without requiring plots, heavy costumes or sets that would distract from the power of the human body, she exposed its essential power and all those who saw her perform remember a magnetic and unique energy and charisma.

At the same time, she always wanted to found a school, realising that dance, the most ephemeral of art forms, needs structure to survive.

She had hoped the huge promise of Soviet Russia would enable her that continuity.

But she left Russia in 1924, disillusioned by the lack of support for her school, the situation in the fledgling Soviet state and the breakdown of her personal relationship with the poet Sergei Yesenin. But her adopted daughter Irma took over the school after she left.

Duncan’s influence on Soviet modern dance was monumental and, in turn, the Russian revolution was a pivotal point in her work to use dance as an educational tool for justice.

Returning to her homeland on tour, in Boston in 1922 she waved a red scarf and declared: “This is red! So am I! it is the colour of life and vigour. You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you!”

On this anniversary of the Russian Revolution, those words still inspire in the struggle for justice.

We must never allow ourselves to be tamed.

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Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky


This is a video of Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky reciting a poem.

By Peter Cardwell in Britain:

The Revolutionary

Saturday 4th November 2017

A poem for Mayakovsky

A practitioner of Russian roulette,
Mayakovsky sits in a workaday jacket,
breast-pocket full of pens, gauge, pencil

looking like everything but a sad poet
but more what he is every day —
shaven-headed and fully employed.

So far, no bullet has entered his brain —
the lonely man he is will write
his epic poem, give heart to other Russians.

And even though Stalin thinks he is a bore,
his work will be read by the lettered —
bread and iron have made him speak.

Jewish Soviet author Ilya Ehrenburg


This video is called Ilya Ehrenburg reading Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem “You Walk, Resembling Me” 1913.

By John Ellison in Britain:

A poet for all seasons

Thursday 31st August 2017

JOHN ELLISON remembers the trying times and extraordinary life of the Soviet-Jewish author Ilya Ehrenburg who died 50 years ago today

ILYA EHRENBURG — Russian poet, novelist, war correspondent, peace campaigner, autobiographer and spokesperson for humanity — was born in January 1891 and died on August 31 1967, 50 years ago today.

On hearing of his passing, his friend the painter Pablo Picasso cut telephone communication with the world, while this paper’s obituary quoted Ehrenburg’s words at the World Peace Congress in 1950: “War is not the midwife of history, it is an abortionist of the flower of humanity.”

His life demonstrated his love for humankind and its creativity in art, poetry and fiction, his love for the country of his birth, for the France which became his second home and for the Jewish people of whom he was one.

A first-hand witness of many of the world’s events and its violence for half a century, he survived many dangerous moments including some in his homeland where he picked, during the Stalin period, a lucky ticket in the bloody lottery.

Beginning with People and Life — six widely translated volumes of his memoirs — published in the 1960s, he delivered an enlightening, vivid and heartfelt account of his experiences and of the people he knew. Yet more can be learnt from Tangled Loyalties, a sympathetic and deeply researched biography by Joshua Rubenstein.

Ehrenburg was born into a middle-class Moscow-based Jewish family that had nothing exceptional about it apart from the person he was to become.

He was to recall helping to build barricades in Moscow’s streets in the closing stages of the abortive 1905 revolution and seeing blood on the snow from shot revolutionaries.

A childhood friend of Nikolai Bukharin, he was arrested for Bolshevik activity early in 1908 and after release from prison five months later was pursued again by police before escaping Russia to take up abode in Paris.

There he met Lenin, wrote poetry and before long visited Vienna where he stayed with Trotsky, whose “dogmatic pronouncements on the utilitarian essence of art” did not impress him.

Increasingly Ehrenburg put literature before politics. In Paris he made friends with Picasso, Modigliani and other artists.

Ehrenburg’s war correspondent career began quietly in late 1915, when his reports of the world war began to appear in Russian newspapers. He visited the Western front often.

In July 1917 the revolution in Russia took him home. At this point he was anti-Bolshevik, preferring Kerensky to Lenin and witnessing much hatred and violence, he felt despair. But poets Vladimir Mayakovsky and Osip Mandelstam became friends. In Kiev he survived the city’s occupation by anti-Bolshevik forces and their anti-Jewish pogroms.

After a period in the south, he was interrogated in a Moscow prison by the Cheka (the Emergency Committee) for four days as a suspected counter-revolutionary. His release was secured with the help of Bukharin, now editor of Pravda. He left Russia for Europe in 1921, settling for a while in Berlin.

He wrote 19 novels, beginning with Julio Jurenito, over the next decade, satirising greed and hypocrisy in the world around him and moving ever closer to “non-party member” support for a communist future.

In Rome in June 1924, appalled by the murder by Mussolini’s fascists of socialist deputy Matteotti, he became fearful for what lay ahead for Italy.

In 1931, visits to Berlin told him that fascism was on the offensive, that its opponents were disunited and that the crisis was growing. The following year he became Paris correspondent of the Soviet newspaper Izvestia (News).

Early in 1934 he sent dispatches about the fascist attempt to reach the French parliament building and then, from Vienna, about the violent suppression of left forces there.

Ehrenburg’s first Spanish civil war dispatch was from Barcelona in September 1936. He sent around 50 by the year’s end and many more during 1937. He admired and made friends with the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

Meeting writer Ernest Hemingway — a Spanish language misunderstanding caused Hemingway to attempt to hit Ehrenburg with a whisky bottle, but friendship followed.

Back in the Soviet Union before 1938 began, he was confronted with the menacing atmosphere generated by the arrests of many acquaintances. He accepted advice to be silent. In March 1938 his childhood friend Bukharin was, among a group of others, infamously tried, condemned and shot. Ehrenburg could not eat for several days and refused to write about the trial — he had come close to being a defendant.

As long as the Soviet Union remained a bulwark against fascism, Ehrenburg was ready to tolerate much. He wrote: “No matter what happened, however agonising the doubts … one had to be silent, one had to struggle, one had to win.” One of his poems opens with the line: “Let me not think too much, cut short that voice, I pray.”

In June 1938 he was back in Spain, writing many more articles filled with poignant detail and reflecting his expectation that the Spanish war would be followed [by] another, bigger and more terrible [war].

As the European situation deteriorated, he reported more from Paris.

For Ehrenburg the non-aggression pact (between the Soviet Union and nazi Germany) of August 1939 was inevitable but tragic.

A patriot for both the Soviet Union and for France, he felt a traitor to the latter and became ill for eight months, recovering only after the nazis invaded.

Repatriated to Russia — after an arrest by the French authorities — publication of his articles, which had stopped abruptly in April 1939, was resumed. His anti-fascist novel The Fall of Paris was awarded the State Stalin Prize — and was published in English in 1942.

Days after the nazi invasion of his homeland on June 22 1941 Ehrenburg was signed up to write for the Red Star, the Soviet Army’s newspaper. Before the war’s end he wrote almost 450 pieces for the paper and more than another 1,500 for other papers. Many anthologies of his articles were published.

Reuters correspondent Alexander Werth said that every Red Army soldier was pulled together by Ehrenburg’s articles. When Kiev fell, he wrote, in the style that made him famous: “We will liberate Kiev. The enemy’s blood will wash the enemy’s footprints. Like the ancient Phoenix, Kiev will rise from the ashes, young and beautiful. Sorrow feeds hatred. Hatred strengthens hope.”

Ehrenburg also became a prominent member of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in which, under his direction, a team of writers worked on The Black Book — a meticulous record of the nazi murder of Soviet Jews.

In Red Star in November 1942 he wrote: “Hitler wanted to turn the Jews into a target. The Jews of Russia showed him that a target shoots.”

He met many Jewish partisans and in 1944 wrote the first poem about the massacre of Jews at Babii Yar. In it he said: “As if from every pit, I hear you calling me.”

In December 1944 he wrote in Pravda of the destruction of six million Jews: “All this began with stupid jokes, with the shouts of street kids, with signposts, and it led to Majdanek, Babii Yar, Treblinka, to ditches filled with children’s corpses.”

After arrest-risking lectures in Moscow when he expressed concerns about the behaviour of Soviet troops in Germany, Ehrenburg’s articles were refused on the eve of victory until after Germany’s surrender.

A passing attendance at the Nuremberg war crimes trials produced Ehrenburg’s comment that Goering and others were “petty criminals who have committed gigantic crimes.”

He travelled widely post-war, a cultural ambassador for the Soviet Union and simultaneously a passionate peace campaigner under the shadow of the atom bomb and the cold war.

But the publication of The Black Book was refused in 1947 and — after Stalin ordered in late 1948, the arrests of many Yiddish writers — Ehrenburg was again close to being arrested himself.

One year after Stalin’s death, in 1954, Ehrenburg’s optimistic novel The Thaw attracted condemnation from much of the Soviet literary establishment — its insightful real life criticisms of how things were under Stalin were deemed “anti-Soviet.”

In his last years came the astonishingly illuminating memoirs, volume by volume, albeit with censor-directed deletions.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he argued against the ideologically narrow basis of Soviet literature published and the criminalisation of dissident writers.

His socialism was unqualified. An extraordinary life.

Hitler’s Holocaust in the Soviet Union, Berlin exhibition


This video says about itself:

Germany: Steinmeier opens exhibit on Nazi Germany’s ‘forgotten’ Soviet Union holocaust

27 September 2016

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened an exhibition titled “Mass shootings, the Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941-1944″ in the Topography of Terror museum, in Berlin, on Tuesday.

By Verena Nees in Germany:

Berlin exhibition—“Mass Shootings: The Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941-1944”

28 October 2016

Mass Shootings: The Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941–1944, September 28, 2016–March 17, 2017

A small, but nonetheless very significant exhibition—75 years after the invasion of the Soviet Union and the massacre of thousands of Jews at Babi Yar in Ukraine—is currently on display at the Berlin Documentation Centre, a history museum in Berlin located on the site where the Gestapo and SS had their headquarters from 1933 to 1945. The Documentation Centre displays documents, photos, videos and audio exhibitions related to the Nazi crimes.

The exhibition, “Mass Shootings: The Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941–44,” draws attention to the little known fact that shortly after the invasion of the Soviet Union by the German military on June 22, 1941, Nazi paramilitary death squads collaborated with the military and police in a systematic campaign of mass shootings of Jews, other civilians and Soviet Red Army members. The commanders later introduced the use of special vehicles for gassing victims so as to spare the soldiers the images of screaming women and children.

One feature of the Second World War that generally goes unexamined is the fact that of the 6 million Jews who were exterminated, more than 2 million died in the Soviet Union as a result of such mass executions and not in concentration camps.

The visitor in Berlin stands shocked and shaken in front of a map near the entrance to the exhibition. The Babi Yar massacre of September 29–30, 1941, in which 34,000 Jews from Kiev in Ukraine were killed, is notorious. But the sheer scale of the mass shootings marked on the map by black points is less well known.

Some 570 locations are marked on the map on territory that stretches from Riga in Latvia to the Black Sea. In this area, according to current research, there were 1.5 million victims. As a text explains, the black points only count the towns, cities and villages where at least 500 Jewish women, children and men were shot. In addition, there were many crime scenes where non-Jews were massacred: Communist officials, Roma, or patients of psychiatric institutions. There were also a great number of massacres with smaller victim totals that remain to be examined sufficiently by researchers.

The documents at the Berlin exhibition include shocking pictures of the mass shootings at Babi Yar and other locations, which were taken secretly by Wehrmacht [German military] soldiers and not handed in to the commanders in violation of orders. There are also operational reports from the heads of various army units, which detail the numbers shot, and documents from legal proceedings after the war, in which many of the convicted commanders of the Wehrmacht units were rapidly set free. The German army’s participation in the mass shootings was kept quiet for years.

A large portion of the exhibition treats the destruction of the Jewish community of Mizocz in the western Soviet border area of Volhynia (which today straddles Poland, Ukraine and Belarus). The Polish section of Volhynia, which includes the small town of Mizocz, was given to the Soviet Union in the secret protocol of the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939. In Volhynia alone, some 160,000 Jews were murdered between May and December 1942.

With its timeline of events in Mizocz, the exhibition gives the mass shootings a face. Photos from the period prior to 1941 show a Catholic kindergarten; women taking a walk; a sugar factory, in the vicinity of which the mass shootings occurred in October 1942; pictures from family albums; members of the Socialist-Zionist youth association Gordonia with a sign reading “Workers’ Group.”

Executions in the forest, public executions and finally the brutal mass shooting in October 1942, in which all 1,500 Jewish men, women and children lost their lives, are all documented. A gendarme’s post captured the shooting in photos. The rescue efforts of one Gräbe, a leading engineer in the firm of Josef Jung that employed many Jewish forced labourers, are documented, as is the formation of a youth resistance group in September 1942, which armed itself with axes, knives and iron bars.

In addition, the “Mass Shootings” exhibition makes clear the central role played by the Ukrainian Resistance Army (UPA) in the persecution of the Jews. It was the UPA that drove the Jews out of Mizocz to the trenches. In the subsequent period, members of the UPA, who are celebrated today by Ukrainian fascists as heroes, hunted down Jews who survived.

The Berlin exhibition, however, is not limited to documenting the horror. It makes clear that the mass shootings were not the result of excesses by one or several commanders, but rather the outcome of a policy deliberately pursued by the Nazi leadership.

Prominent place is given to a June 6, 1941 order. More than two weeks before the beginning of Operation Barbarossa [the invasion of the USSR by the German military], it was issued by the Wehrmacht leadership and ordered that all political commissars in the Red Army be “in principle eliminated immediately.”

“It cannot be expected that in the struggle against Bolshevism, the enemy will behave according to the standards of humanity or international law,” the order of the OKW (supreme command of the Wehrmacht), which was signed by Alfred Jodl, declared by way of justification. “Leniency and the respecting of international law when dealing with these elements” would therefore be wrong, and further, “The originators of the barbaric-Asiatic methods of combat are the political commissars. Therefore, all ruthlessness must be used immediately and without restraint.”

On July 2, 1941, the chief of the security police and the SD [SS intelligence agency], Reinhard Heydrich, issued an order to the leading SS and police commanders, “All officials of the Comintern, (as well as all professional communist politicians) are to be executed; the middle and radical officials of the party, the central committees of regional party organisations; people’s commissars; Jews in the party and state positions; other radical elements (saboteurs, propagandists, snipers, attackers, agitators and so forth.)”

Two things become clear as a result. First, the central goal from the outset was to exterminate the “Jewish-Bolshevik” leadership of the Soviet Union. Hitler hated the Jews above all because they had played an important role in the October Revolution and the workers movement. A left-wing journalist during the Weimar Republic, Konrad Heiden, summarised this point, “Not Rothschild the capitalist, but Karl Marx the socialist provoked Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism.” (Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer, 1944, p. 58)

Second, the war against the Soviet Union, unlike the war in the West, was planned as a war of annihilation. This was underscored by the opening lecture of the current Berlin exhibition titled “Barbarossa: strategic planning and political decisions, June 1940–June 1941,” delivered by the Freiburg-based historian Ulrich Herbert. Already in July 1940, less than a year after the Hitler-Stalin pact, Hitler informed the army leadership of his decision “to eliminate Russia.”

Herbert noted that under the slogan “Lebensraum [living space] in the east,” Hitler intended to conquer colonial territory for German big business to exploit raw materials and create space for settlement and the securing of foodstuffs. To this end, long before the beginning of the war, SS leader Heinrich Himmler requested a group of academics at Berlin University, led by agricultural scientist Konrad Meyer, to prepare the Generalplan Ost [General Plan East]. It envisioned the conquered territories to be free of people, thus requiring the extermination or deportation of the existing population.

Herbert rejects the claim by the German revisionist [amateur] historian Ernst Nolte in the 1980s that the Nazi war of annihilation was a preventive strike and an “understandable reaction” to the violence of the Bolsheviks, which triggered the famous “historians’ dispute.”

Stalin’s terror in the late 1930s directed against the Bolshevik leaders of the October Revolution, which also virtually decapitated the Red Army, played into Hitler’s hands. When the Wehrmacht invaded, the Soviet Army was taken by surprise and suffered severe losses. The numbers of dead in the USSR, 27 million in total, including 14 million civilians, speak for themselves.

Nolte justified his position in words almost identical to those of the Nazis’ “commissar” order: “Did Hitler perhaps carry out an Asiatic act because they and others like them feared becoming potential or real victims of an Asiatic act?” (Ernst Nolte, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “The Past That Will Not Pass”, June 6, 1986)

Today, this historical revisionism in Germany is being revived and intensified by the occupant of the chair of Eastern European history at Humboldt University, Professor Jörg Baberowski. In his books Scorched Earth: Stalin’s Reign of Terror and Spaces of Violence, he attacked the “mass violence” of the “Bolsheviks,” which allegedly laid the basis for the acts of violence by the Wehrmacht. In a 2007 publication, Baberowski went on to claim, “Stalin and his generals imposed a new type of war on the Wehrmacht, which no longer spared the civilian population.” Unlike Nolte, Baberowski removes the question mark.

The Berlin exhibition on “Mass Shootings” provides a stunning refutation of this historical falsification and demonstrates how similar it is to the propaganda of the Nazis themselves.

Soviet filmmaker Eisenstein, new film about him


This video says about itself:

Eisenstein In Guanajuato – Official Trailer

8 February 2015

A film by Peter Greenaway, 2015, Netherlands/Mexico/Finland/Belgium, 105′

On 27 July 2015, I went to see the film Eisenstein In Guanajuato.

In this film, movie director Peter Greenaway reconstructs the stay of his famous Soviet colleague Sergei Eisenstein in Mexico in 1931. Eisenstein then made recordings, intended for a film on Mexico and the Mexican revolution, entitled ¡Que viva México!

In his reconstruction, Greenaway had to consider that some of the facts in this part of Eisenstein’s life are known. Some others are not certain, but maybe, with some fantasy (Greenaway made a feature film, not a documentary), might be deduced from known facts. And many other things about Eisenstein’s Mexican episode are completely unknown.

Greenaway’s film ‘plays fast, loose and salaciously with the facts’, according to film critic David Robinson.

Robinson points out, inter alia, that Eisenstein was a workaholic, while Greenaway depicts him as hardly ever leaving his hotel bedroom. Eisenstein did not drink alcohol, while Greenaway depicts him as drunk.

The central theme in Greenaway’s film is that Eisenstein was a virgin, until his initiation into gay sex in Guanajuato at 33 years of age. Very improbable, according to Robinson.

Was Eisenstein gay? Maybe, we don’t know for sure.

However, there are so many and such obvious inaccuracies in Eisenstein In Guanajuato that, rather than being results of Greenaway’s supposed ignorance or sloppiness, one may suspect that Greenaway included them on purpose to indicate the film is not about the historical Eisenstein, but about an Eisenstein of his own post-modernist imagination.

In post-modernism there is no historical truth.

Eisenstein as a film role in Greenaway’s work speaks about lots of famous filmmakers and other artists he supposedly had met. A list so long that it looks a bit incredible. Is this not really a list of Peter Greenaway’s favourites in film history and art history?

One can see that Eisenstein In Guanajuato is by someone who was originally a visual artist, and an admirer of the imagery of Eisenstein’s films. Greenaway’s imagery in this film is good. So is the acting. However, Greenaway undeservedly makes the issues in Eisenstein’s films, Russian revolution and society, Mexican revolution and society, etc. play a very second fiddle to aesthetics.

At least one review of this film has a historical inaccuracy of its own: Variety magazine in the USA writes that Lenin underwrote Eisenstein’s expenses while in Mexico. Lenin had died in 1924. While the Variety article also spells ‘Guadajuato’ which should have been Guanajuato.

A notable collection of early Soviet films, The New Man—Awakening and Everyday Life in Revolutionary Russia (Der neue Mensch—Aufbruch und Alltag im revolutionären Russland), has been released on DVD in Germany to coincide with the centenary of the October Revolution: here.

Painter Kasimir Malevich, 1879-1935


This video is called Kazimir Malevich.

By Christine Lindey in Britain:

Exhibition Review: The epitome of radical art

Saturday 2nd August 2014

Malevich was an original thinker whose contribution to art theory more than compensates for a certain lack of intuitive flair and sensuous engagement with the act of painting, writes CHRISTINE LINDEY

In 20th-century Russia, rejection of the reactionary past by welcoming nascent modernity motivated both the artistic and political vanguards. Believing that the two were interdependent, Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935) embraced both with clear-minded passion.

Born in Kiev into a large Polish family, Malevich’s fragmentary art education lacked the lengthy academic discipline which formed most other pioneers of Modernism. Yet, like theirs, his early work looks like a crash-course in more recent “innovatory” styles.

The Tate Gallery’s Malevich exhibition duly begins with a succession of his Impressionist, post-Impressionist, folksy Symbolist and carelessly brushed Expressionist paintings, many being stronger in daring than accomplishment.

But he discovered his forte in 1912 once he arrived at the visual rigours of Cubism with its focus on form, line and space rather than colour and touch. Combining Cubism with Russian Futurism’s socially subversive subjects led to his first mature works. In them he faced the fundamental question: why should painting retain any contact with the visible world now that this was represented so accurately by the modern technologies of photography, film and photomontage?

In 1913 Malevich designed outlandishly “abstract” costumes and sets for the avant-garde opera Victory Over the Sun and a film of its recreation is screened in the exhibition.

Two years later he painted his first Black Square. So radical was this provocative statement about the absolute essence of painting that it has influenced generations of artists and remains contentious to this day.

“To reproduce beloved objects and little corners of nature is like a thief being enraptured by his leg irons,” Malevich declared. He called his new aesthetic Suprematism, wrote a manifesto and created arguably his best paintings in the following three years.

Flatly painted, simple geometric forms in black or bold colours are juxtaposed against an even white ground. Often composed diagonally, rectangles, triangles and circles speed across the surface with a dynamism echoing that of flying machines.

Uncompromisingly stark, these paintings defy and deny any connection with tradition.

Having arrived in Moscow in 1905, Malevich fought in the “battle of the brigades” in that year’s aborted revolution. He remained a lifelong socialist, joining the Federation of Leftist Artists in the February 1917 revolution.

It was no coincidence that by the period of war communism (1917-22) Malevich’s canvases became ever simpler, paling into white forms on white backgrounds. By 1919 they completely faded out. “Painting died like the old regime because it was a part of it,” Malevich said.

From the October 1917 revolution onwards Malevich’s career exemplifies the promotion of the avant garde to “high art” status by the young worker state, the first government in the world to do so.

Appointed Commissioner for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Art in 1917 and head of the experimental Petrograd Free State Workshops (SVOMAS) by 1918, Malevich became an influential art establishment figure.

From 1919 he continued to develop new forms of art education based on Suprematism in his own department at Vitebsk Art School. He organised his students and himself into a collective under the acronym UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art) and together they set out to improve daily life by exploring the essence of form, colour and volume as prototypes for practical application by engineers, architects and designers.

Having inspired many contemporaries these principles, which Malevich published in 1927, still underpin much Modernist design today.

Malevich’s return to figurative painting in the late 1920s may come as a shock as these works were long marginalised. This exhibition devotes two rooms to them, presenting them as surprising, ambiguous and complex reinventions of figuration. Yet it interprets his themes of peasant life as conveying the “dislocation, alienation and despair” of collectivisation policies.

By privileging the individual, avant-garde artist, the curatorial stance undervalues the urgency of the international left’s 1930s debates about the social responsibility of artists.

Malevich’s late experiments of blending Modernism with various forms of realism was part of a wider quest by Soviet artists to create an accessible yet modern art.

At his premature death from cancer in 1935, the city of Leningrad honoured Malevich by paying for the grand Suprematist funeral which he’d designed himself.

Malevich was a true radical and original thinker. His major contribution to art theory and education more than compensates for a certain lack of intuitive flair and sensuous engagement with the act of painting.

The exhibition is overly large so that it is difficult to absorb the numerous drawings and UNOVIS projects displayed towards its end. Yet, apart from its predictable anti-Soviet bias, it provides a meticulously researched and comprehensive survey of Malevich’s work. It has an unpretentious chronological organisation and its reconstruction of Malevich’s 1915 Suprematist exhibition is impressive.

A must for those interested in Soviet and Modernist art.

Runs until October 26 at Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. Box office: (020) 7887-8888.