Kazimir Malevich: Experiences of a Ukrainian Researcher in Amsterdam
Tetyana Filevska works as an art manager, curator and researcher of the Ukrainian avant-garde. Here she tells us how the award of an international mobility grant allowed her to access both the artistic creations of Kazimir Malevich and other archival material related to the artist, and what opportunities for cooperative study emerged for her on her trip. She also talks about why creative industries are experiencing such explosive growth in the Netherlands and what Cultural Bridges grant hopefuls should concentrate on in the grant application process.
SEARCHING FOR MALEVICH
Regrettably, only a few of Malevich's letters, one sketch and a few of his paintings are located in Ukraine, and those in private collections. Outside Russia, particularly in Europe, the largest collection of Malevich's legacy – both his finished works and archival material – is housed at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. This is where the Khardzhiev Archive is kept, as well. Nikolai Khardzhiev was a colleague of Malevich in his youth and an archivist who had assembled a tremendous collection of avant-garde material. In 1996, he moved to Amsterdam but was able to take only a portion of his collection with him. The other part did not make it out of Russia.
Lengthy negotiations between Russia and the Netherlands eventually resolved that the collection of art would remain in the Netherlands and the archive in Russia. Both parties agreed to a full exchange of electronic versions of their holdings. Amsterdam's entire Khardzhiev Collection is now available in digital format, but the Russian collection allows for only limited access. I was allowed to do an exhaustive study of more than 1,500 pieces of archival material and acquired electronic copies of works and other documents of great personal interest to me.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO WORK WITH ORIGINAL MATERIAL
Having access to original work results in an entirely new take on things.
Having access to original work results in an entirely new take on things. For example, in one portrait I noticed something that couldn't be seen in reproductions and hadn't been noted in the archival material. The picture had been rendered in a single consistent style, but the face of the woman in entirely another style using different paint, colours and shading. This was visible only from a specific viewing position, when it's possible to move the painting and see what the light reveals from different angles. That kind of detail strongly suggests that the work was repainted or that for some reason Malevich wanted to paint over the woman's face. Only then does it become clear that there is some story behind this painting, something that's not listed in any archive, and there remains only the fact that over the last 20 years the painting had never been put on public display.
Western European museums, particularly their archives, are extremely democratic in their arrangement and freely accessible for research.
This is a fundamental difference with the way archival materials are treated in Ukraine. Here, they are restricted and heavily regulated, typically with some absurd, soviet-style working hours. All that was required to gain access to the Stedelijk Museum was to send an email with my request (for access) and within a day I'd have received permission to access the materials that interested me. When I went to the museum vaults they had arranged about 30 Malevich paintings for my personal study. Even the museum and archive staff had never seen these pictures together in one setting, pleasantly surprising as no one had asked whether I needed access to the entire collection. They also provided me with two assistants who were invaluable in my research of the paintings.
HOW IS THE CULTURAL SPHERE DEVELOPING IN NETHERLANDS
They understand the value of culture there, its influence, its ability to change the world and they invest in it correspondingly.
In the Netherlands the museum sector is exceptionally well developed: Amsterdam possesses one of Europe's largest concentrations of museums boasting holdings of world masterpieces in the thousands. They understand the value of culture there, its influence, its ability to change the world and they invest in it correspondingly. Creative industries across the country develop in dynamic fashion because they've worked out all the stages of the process of putting an idea into practice – from its most abstract to its concrete form. For example, in Amsterdam they hold annually the largest, most prestigious international documentary film festival and in autumn there's Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven - the premier event in the world of northern European design.
On my trip I had 16 meetings with researchers from Dutch cultural institutions and the Dutch Ukrainian community and we've already begun to work out some joint projects. In one, I'm pulling together a representative collection of literature on Ukrainian art of the 20th- and 21st-centuries. With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the end of the year I play to hand this collection over to the museum and create a Ukrainian art section there and make regular contributions to the library. The curator group at the Stedelijk Museum expressed interest in the idea of a joint exhibition on Ukrainian Modernism that could run for years in Amsterdam and other locations in western Europe. In addition, next summer the museum and the Khardzhiev Foundation are organizing a conference on the Khardzhiev archive holdings and I've been invited to present my research work. Finally, this fall the Khardzhiev Foundation director plans to visit Ukraine.
WHEN PLANNING FOR THEIR TRAVEL GRANT, APPLICANTS SHOULD
You need to know exactly what you want, where you can find it and how you can get it.
You need to clearly lay out the purpose and objective of your research and seriously evaluate how realistic your project is. Thoroughly prepare for your trip and acquaint yourself with the following in advance: study the locale, set up your meetings and finalize your schedule down to the minute. This will help you use your two weeks in the most effective way. The grant was approved about a month prior to my scheduled trip, but my trip budget estimate had been submitted a half-year earlier and ticket and accommodation prices had risen significantly. What's more, my trip fell at the height of the tourist season, so it became necessary to move the date if I was going to adhere to the limits of my budget. You need to take into account also that bank transfers from Ukraine to Europe can be delayed and include commissions.