Liubov Popova Painterly Architectonic 1917

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 507 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

In Painterly Architectonic, one of a series of works with this title, Popova arranged areas of white, red, black, gray, and pink to suggest planes laid one on top of the other over a white ground, like differently shaped papers in a collage. The space is not completely flat, however, for the rounded lower rim of the gray plane implies that this surface is arching upward against the red triangle. This pressure finds matches in the shapes and placements of the planes, which shun both right angles and vertical or horizontal lines, so that the picture becomes a taut net of slants and diagonals.

Influenced by her visits to western Europe before World War I, Popova helped introduce into Russian art the Cubist and Futurist ideas she encountered in France and Italy. Her model of abstraction is implied by her use of the term “architectonic”: treating planes almost as solid material entities, Popova built a monumental composition focused on the interrelationships between individual parts.

In 1916 Popova became a Suprematist, a term coined the previous year by artist Kazimir Malevich to describe an art that rejected painting’s historic devotion to representation, focusing instead on the supremacy of pure artistic feeling. In the wake of the Russian Revolution, in 1917, many artists took up Malevich’s aim, believing that a revolutionary society demanded a radically new artistic language.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

In 1919 Popova described painting as a "construction," the building blocks of which were color and line. In this work, brightly colored, irregularly shaped planes are layered against a neutral background. The curved bottom edge of a gray shape emerging from beneath a red triangle and a white trapezoid suggests three-dimensionality, while the vibrant colors and jutting edges that seem to extend beyond the frame evoke energetic movement. Painterly Architectonic is one of a series of works Popova created between 1915 and 1919 in response to Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist paintings. Her definition of painting as a constructive process also recalls her engagement with the materially based abstraction of fellow Russian Vladimir Tatlin, in whose teaching studio she worked.

Gallery label from 2006.

In counterpoint to the expansive white backgrounds of Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist paintings, Popova creates what appears to be a tight, shallow container for geometric forms that seem to push outward from it. Her model of abstraction is suggested by her use of the term "architectonic": treating planes almost as solid material entities, Popova builds a monumental composition focused on the interrelationships between individual parts. In this work, which combines a carefully painted surface with a three-dimensional spatial quality, she combined the respective innovations of Malevich (in her use of colored geometric forms and the working of paint on the surface) and fellow Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin (in the overlapping elements that suggest an abstract relief construction), in whose studio Popova had worked between 1912 and 1915. In 1916, she joined Malevich's Suprematist group, and over the next two years created a series of works, including this one, called Painterly Architectonics.

Gallery label from 2015.
Oil on canvas
31 1/2 x 38 5/8" (80 x 98 cm)
Philip Johnson Fund
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

[1930s - before 1958], Pavel Sergeevich Popov (the artist's brother).
By 1958, Edith Houzer, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, probably purchased from the artist's brother.
1958, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchased from Edith Houzer.

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