Art of the matter

Charles Darwent ("Red paint", the Back Half, 17 May) displays extraordinary ignorance when he describes Kazimir Malevich's Red Square as nothing more than "a Russian take on cubism".

Thirty years ahead of its time, Red Square is a precursor of minimalist abstraction, one of the first paintings whose subject is the actual surface on which it is painted. Cubism was representational and created the illusion of three-dimensional depth. Red Square is entirely abstract and creates a two-dimensional space, not parallel but at a slight angle to the picture plane.

Malevich is widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of abstraction. So, too, is Kandinsky. Darwent makes no reference to this important artist, probably the first abstract expressionist; nor to Pavel Filonov, whose paintings create a kaleidoscopic effect unlike anything in cubism; or Vladislav Strzeminsky, whose textured reliefs anticipate Bauhaus aesthetics. All of these artists were highly original. Their ideas spread across Europe via the Bauhaus and changed the course of 20th-century art.

It is historically misleading to represent pre-Stalinist Russia as a cultural backwater imitating European trends, and I find it astonishing that the New Statesman should publish such ethnocentric drivel.

Roger Sutherland
London N19

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning