Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


This dissertation discusses Kazimir Malevich’s post-abstract, post-suprematist figurative work by drawing upon semiotic and post-structuralist theories, addressing questions such as: Why did Malevich return to painting figures after adamantly abandoning them for pure abstraction? How do these figures re-figure or resist abstraction? Why did he paint inexact replicas of his own pre-Suprematist works, and why did he give them dates that were similar, or even prior, to the dates of their prototypes? How did he manage to put on an exhibition of his intellectually challenging, subversive works in 1929, at the first moments of sustained state support for proto-socialist realism, at one of the most important museums of Russian art in the Soviet Union, the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow? How are contemporaneously contested identities of the artist, the Russian peasant, and the Soviet citizen reflected and refracted in the paintings displayed at this exhibition?

The first chapter comprises an introductory survey of pertinent scholarly literature, and discusses methodological grounding within both Russian and Western sources. The second chapter concerns a semiotic reading of the circumstances and documents surrounding the 1929 “retrospective” exhibition, which for the most part displayed paintings composed in the eighteen months prior to the exhibition, but inscribed with dates from the 1900’s and 1910’s. This chapter includes a close reading of Alexei Fedorov-Davidov’s pamphlet-catalogue accompanying the exhibition, particularly within the context of early Stalinist Marxist discourse, and it discusses how the artist’s images of peasants confounded contemporary systems of representation and disrupted attempts to secure a sense of Soviet identity.

Chapter three proposes that postmodern discourses, as opposed to the discourses of modernity within which Malevich’s works are most often examined, might be fruitfully employed to frame the artist’s circa-1929 work. The fourth chapter considers the ways in which certain paintings from the 1929 exhibition explicitly duplicate works from earlier in Malevich’s career, many of which had been destroyed, lost, or otherwise rendered inaccessible. Attention is given to how these paintings participated in contemporaneous and more recent discourses of originality, the copy, and conventionality.


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