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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mondrian: The Geometry of Art

Last week's Piet Mondrian retrospective at the Tretyakov Gallery had all the trappings of an important art opening -- except the art. Foreign diplomats, a legion of reporters and a panel of experts were all on hand to discuss the life and work of the Dutch artist, who died 50 years ago, but apart from a few reproductions, there wasn't an original canvas in sight.

Russian museums do not have any Mondrian paintings to donate for a commemorative exhibit or any other reason, so discussion had to suffice for the people who attended the seminar Thursday night. They had plenty to talk about. Mondrian was a geometry guru, and the only other true master of the simple shape was Kazimir Malevich, Russia's great avant-garde artist who died in 1935. The result was more provocative than most exhibits that have opened in Moscow this year.

Although Mondrian and Malevich did not know each other, they are often mentioned in the same breath when it comes to abstract painting.

"They were the two poles of the abstract movement," said Galina Demosfenova, vice president of the Malevich Foundation, which sponsored the evening along with the Pushkin Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery and the Dutch Embassy. "Both brought abstract art into the mainstream culture of the 20th century, Mondrian with neo-plasticism and Malevich with suprematism."

For those untrained in art's isms, a look at canvases by Malevich and Mondrian is enough to tell the story. Both were fairly mediocre painters early in their careers, and then found their styles through the use of squares, rectangles and primary colors. Although later Malevich added more texture to his pictures, Mondrian remained true to austere shapes and mathematical precision. Malevich eventually quit painting to write, teach and make architectural models. Mondrian also wrote and dabbled with design; there is still the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The forum brought the Year of Mondrian -- as the Dutch government has proclaimed 1994 -- to Moscow, but perhaps more important, it put the Malevich Foundation in the spotlight for a bit. The foundation has existed since 1991 and relies on private donations and support from the Tretyakov and the Pushkin for survival. The best collection of Malevich's paintings is at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which sometimes lends a hand to the group as well. In addition to supporting young Russian abstract artists, the group gives financial help to Malevich's family, including his four-year-old great-granddaughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Demosfenova hopes to establish a Malevich Prize to be awarded to artists and teachers who excel in modern art or design.

"Malevich was a key figure in modern art and culture," Demosfenova said, and added that an award would be appropriate because "he was not only an artist, but a teacher, scientist and researcher as well. He was a man of the future."

Demosfenova added that the foundation hopes to bring a Mondrian exhibit to Moscow as soon as possible.

"We are still planning one," she said. "We would like to bring even just one or two of the works here, but insurance costs are very high."

For art enthusiasts, this is a shame. It would be wonderful if the Pushkin could follow its "Impressionism -- Monet to Picasso" with "Abstract Art -- Malevich and Mondrian."

For more information about the Malevich Foundation, call Galina Demosfenova at 971-3743.