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UNOVIS - Affirmers of New Art - Uchrediteli Novogo Iskusstva - УНОВИС - Учредители Нового Искусства

1919 - 1926, Member List

Members of UNOVIS group headed by Malevich are going
to the 1st All-Russian Conference of Art Teachers and Students
held in Moscow. Vitebsk. 1920

The UNOVIS group was formed as an association of students of Kazimir Malevich at the Vitebsk Art School (1919-1921), where he has replaced Chagall as its head. In this Art School it has quickly become evident that he intended to introduce a new type of art education, in which all forms of art are developed on the basis of Suprematism and are integrated into a universal system. He received the full support of Vera Ermolaeva, who was the rector and has in fact invited him to that School, and El Lissitzky, who also taught there; as well as that of his pupil Ilya Chashnik, who accompanied him from Moscow.

Malevich wrote a long theoretical essay "On the new systems in art", which was printed and published by the lithographic workshop of UNOVIS in Vitebsk (1919).

In April 1920 a new type of training was introduced into the academic organization of Vitebsk. The principle of collectivity was fundamental to the execution of this plan. It was given the name UNOVIS (the Affirmers of the New Art). In his two lectures Malevich explained his ideas about collectivity in the creative process. 

In August 1920 the UNOVIS group included 36 members: Avidon, Baitin, Belostotskaya, Bernstein, Chashnik, Chervinko, Fradkin, Gavris, Grigorovich, Ermolaeva, Ivanova, Khidekel, Khirutskaya, Kogan, Korsakov, Kliatskina, Kunin, Lissitsky, Magaril, Malevich, Miturich, G.Noskov, M.Noskov, V.Noskov,  Rubin, Sifman, Strzheminsky, Suetin, Tsiperson, Vexler, Volkonsky, Yudin, Zeitlin, Zevin, Zeldin, Zuperman.

Malevich, Kogan, Lissitsky and Ermolaeva taught according to Malevich's ne system. From 1921, the senior graduates of the Institute were also given teaching positions as assistants: Chashnik, Gavris, Khidekel, Noskov, Suetin, Yudin.

UNOVIS group. Vitebsk. 1922. Left-to-right, standing: I.Chervinko, K.Malevich, T.Royak, A.Kagan
N.Suetin, L.Yudin, E.Magaril; seated: M.Vexler, V.Ermolaeva, I.Chashnik, L.Khidekel.

Malevich's system closely followed his theory of art path from Cesanne to Suprematism, and recreated the sequence of this evolution: the comprehension of Suprematism was to ascend from its artistic  laws to its philosophical truth. The innovation of the Suprematism doctrine was also reflected in the program. In 1920 a Program of a Sole Painting Audience was accepted, based on the following rules:

  1. the general direction of the workshop - Cubism, Futurism and Suprematism as a new, painting-color perception of the world. The main streams with the development of basic lines of all other movements.
  2. systematization, construction of painting structures, balance of form-constructions in painting, paint and painting, material.

The Building of Vitebsk Art-practical Institute. 
10 Bukharinskaya Str.

The program consisted of four phases, or classes, in coordination with the study sequence:

The first, preparatory phase, introduced the general principles of "object abstraction",  emphasizing on the emancipation of pure means of painting - color, form, composition, volume. This course was taught by Nina Kogan.

The second stage brought the study of Cubism: its history from Cesanne's painting; its theory; the systems of space structure; the Cubist displacement and so on. Cubism and Cubofuturism were taught by Vera Ermolaeva. The senior members of UNOVIS have found themselves in a position of both students and teachers, where they had to study themselves and teach to their students the same material almost at the same time.

The third stage was dedicated to the study of the laws of Futurism "as the teaching of speed". Van Gogh's art was indicated as the painting impulse. "Academic immersion" was provided for, in other words - study cessions of "object movement structure". 

And only during the fourth stage were the students due to come to terms with the socio-aesthetic doctrine of Suprematism. At first, the painting techniques were studied and their practical application ways were set:

  1. Pure dynamics of color. Structural system. Economy. Decor. Ornament. Theatre.

The following two steps opened the essence of Suprematism painting:

  1. Colorless Suprematic motion.
  2. The theory of color energy motion.

Then came spatial interpretation of Suprematism:

  1. Architecture. Spacial Suprematism of structure.

A separate step dealt with the meaning of the square:

  1. The Square - its economic development.

An, lastly, the final two steps allowed comprehension of the Suprematism teaching as a philosophy:

  1. Philosophy of Suprematism. Science - the denial of science. Development of nature-essence of structure within oneself.
  2. Individuality and unity. The collective as a path to unity.

The program included development of areas such as architecture; textile ornament; daily life objects, furniture and utilities; decor, festivities and monumental projects; book illustration and design; lectures, expositions; libraries; excursions; museums; schools; research laboratories; and more.

the UNOVIS group held exhibitions, decorated streets, and was involved actively in all spheres of life in Vitebsk.

Suprematism wall-paintings of UNOVIS group, Vitebsk. 1920.
Fragment of exposition.

Exhibition of UNOVIS group in Moscow. 1921.
Fragment of exposition.

A second exhibition of the UNOVIS group was held in Moscow (1921-1922). Similar groups were organized in Smolensk, Orenburg, Saratov, Perm and other cities.


A growing dislike of the new method of training was rising within the academic world, and the municipal government forced Malevich to find other accommodations for his UNOVIS. In the end of 1921 he attempted to ally with the INKhUK (Institute of Artistic Culture) in Moscow, which was formed in 1920. But the differences between the institution's chosen direction, presented under the name Constructivism, and Malevich's Suprematism appeared to be too great. The salaries were tiny, the obstacles great, the artists and teachers were going hungry. The attacks on them and their "narrow party activities" were incessant. 

Lithograph cover of UNOVIS journal.
II edition. Vitebsk, January 1921

And so, the Vitebsk "Renaissance" proved to be short-lived. When it has become apparent that no future was forthcoming at the Institute for them, in May 1922 the UNOVIS movement were forced to leave Vitebsk. Malevich, along with a large group of his students, moved to Petrograd and continued to operate within the framework of the INKhUK (1923-1926). In May 1923  the UNOVIS made a collective entry in the exhibition "Works of Petrograd Artists of ALL Movements" at the Academy of Arts.

Kazimir Malevich was not only a gifted artist, but also a researcher, seeking to understand both the causes for new forms in the world and art, and the logic of their evolution. For him Suprematism was not an isolated phenomenon, but a decisive step in the global development of artistic culture. The most important department at the INKhUK was the Department of Formal Theory, headed by Malevich. Many famous Leningrad artists spent time there. Malevich's group of research assistants began an intense study of the five major systems of the new art: Impressionism, Cézannism, Futurism, Cubism and Suprematism. In elaborating his theory of supplementary element in art, Malevich relied substantially on these findings. He understood the "supplementary element" to be a new structural principle arising in the process of artistic evolution. During structural analysis, supplementary elements were found in numerous examples of the new art: the "fibrous graph line" of Cézanne, the "crescent line" of Cubism, the "straight line" of Suprematism, and these "supplementary elements" were determined for each system both in color and form. In his teachings Malevich has made considerable use of the theory of the supplementary element.

In collaboration with the Petrograd Lomonossov Porcelain Factory, Malevich and other UNOVIS members have worked on designs for new forms and decorative patterns based on the Suprematism principles.

Most of the theoretic works of the period were written in Vitebsk. In December 1920 Malevich has completed his book, "Suprematism. 34 drawings", published by the UNOVIS workshop. In February 1922 he has completed the manuscript "Suprematism. The World as Non-Objectivity".

Malevich's work and his vision of Suprematism were not limited to art. From the very pre-birth of the UNOVIS movement, it is being alluded to by its future members as a "party". Already in the beginning of 1920 he informs M.Matiushin of his intention to create a party of Suprematists-Economists. The status of a party, with its accompanying program in every sphere of life, political, economical, cultural, etc.. It has clearly meant that Malevich's vision and intentions went beyond art, beyond academic and theoretical world, beyond scientific research into the very re-structuring of the world! He envisioned UNOVIS as a reform movement, whose role was to unite under its colors all who wished to join, and to proclaim Suprematism as the new world utopia. UNOVIS was open to all. P.Miturich and A.Kruchenykh were considered members; its filials appeared in other towns - Orenburg, Samara, Smolensk, and communication was initiated. There were representatives in Perm', Odessa, Moscow, Ekaterinburg. 

Even after UNOVIS has ceased to exist as a group, its leaders, in practice and manifests, have always adhered to the ideas and principles of Suprematism till the last day of their life.



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