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  RELIEFS РУ DE EN

Puni's period of fascination with reliefs, as well as with objectlessness in general, was relatively short - from 1913 to 1916 - and came to a full conclusion in 1919 with the creation of "a plate , fixed on a board" - "a suprematist construction, brought to complete simplification and laconism", in his own words. This fascination was linked to Puni's desire to make the newest, most radical art. From Paris, where he lived and studied in 1910-1912, Puni came enriched with knowledge of the latest trends in art, including fauvism and cubism. In the first half of 1914 he was again in France, participating in the 30th Salon des Indépendants and deepening his artistic education. It is very likely that there he noticed three-dimensional assemblages, which Picasso was doing at that time.

Tatlin travelled to Paris in March 1914 as well. He visited Picasso's studio and became an ardent adherent of three-dimensional objectless compositions, or "material selections", reliefs and counterreliefs, as he called them. Before this Tatlin, like Malevich and Puni, had participated in the activities of the Union of Youth. On his return to Russia (autumn 1914), Puni was already (together with Malevich) in the process of organising the "First Futurist Exhibition 'Tramway V'", at which they sought to present to the public the most radical novelties of visual art. The most radical new directions were epitomised primarily by Malevich and Tatlin, and Puni had to show a great deal of diplomacy to keep these two extremely egocentric masters under one roof. This became particularly difficult during the next exhibition, "The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings '0.10'".

Puni always strove for synthetic art, and the pieces he gave for the exhibition "Tramway V" combined features of Tatlin's material selections and Malevich's alogical paintings. Among the 11 pieces by Puni listed in the exhibition catalogue, two are now kept in the Russian Museum: "Harmonica" (No. 49, painting with elements of sculpture) and the "Portrait of the Artist's Wife" (No. 51, purely cubist painting). Two more of his works from the exhibition "Tramway V" are well known, both reliefs made of different material: "Card Players" (No. 54) and "Dead Nature" with hammer (No. 57). The work "Card Players" became the object of journalistic jokes (typical in case of Futurists) and its photo was published several times in St. Petersburg newspapers during the exhibition. "Dead Nature" with hammer, constructed from three overlapping sheets of cardboard with a hammer mounted in the foreground, combined the idea of material selection with the use of a ready-made. It is not known whether Puni was already familiar with Duchamp and his experiments then; if not, they were going parallel courses. This relief with hammer was reconstructed by Puni in Berlin in 1921; it is hanging on the wall in photographs of his Berlin workshop.

Shortly after "Tramway V" there was an "Exhibition of Paintings of Left Currents" at the Dobychina's Art Bureau (12 April - 9 May 1915), to which Puni gave one piece that attracted journalistic attention:
"In the first room my attention was attracted by Puni's painting "Dead Nature". The painting is not large in size. On it is painted ... It's hard to see what's painted on it. But what is glued to Puni's painting is clear and understandable. In the right corner of "Dead Nature" five real cigarettes, bought in the most ordinary tobacco shop, are glued. A box of matches is glued on top. [etc.]" (Д’Ор О.Л. На выставке футуристов // День. 15 апреля.1915 С. 4)

There at Dobychina's on 19 December 1915 the "Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings '0.10'" opened, also organised by Puni. According to the catalogue, he presented 23 works. Of these, 11 had titles and were apparently oil/canvas paintings, while 12 were summarised as "Pictorial Sculpture" and "Painting". Among them were pieces that allowed Puni to claim five years later (in the catalogue of the exhibition at Der Sturm) that at the exhibition "0.10" "suprematist paintings (K. Malevich) and suprematist sculptures (I. Puni, O. Rozanova) appeared for the first time". However, at the exhibition "0.10" these suprematist sculptures were not understood or appreciated by many people. Journalists routinely made fun of them, and even Matyushin wrote about one of Puni's works in his review of the exhibition "His ball in the green box, the best of his stuff, but clearly cubistic". The work in question is "White Ball", which Xana presented to the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 1966. It is unclear what Matyushin saw in it as cubistic: on the basis of an ordinary drawer, an objectless composition of simple geometric figures and three local colours is built. Next to the black trapezium is a green trapezium, a slice of a white ball on it. Everything is very simple. And at the same time complex: the work combines Tatlin's ideas (material selection, construction, texture), Duchamp (ready-made - a box), and Malevich (geometric objectlessness, monochrome colour planes). "It was a truly innovative work <...> the collision of highly abstract forms and prosaic everyday objects, as if to marry the Russian non-objectivity and ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp <...> But Ivan Puni, having created several minimalist masterpieces of this kind - "White ball" certainly belongs thereto - left this path without development" (Шатских А.С. Казимир Малевич и общество Супремус. М.: Три квадрата, 2009., с. 124).

1914. Card Players. At the exhibition "Tramway V" cat. 54. Lost. Photo from newspapers, March 1915 1914. Boots and Chair. Mixed technique. At the exhibition "Tramway V" cat. 59. Lost. Photo 1915 1914. Still Life. Etude. Mixed technique. At the exhibition "Tramway V" cat. 53. Lost. Photo from the magazine "Ogonyok", March 1915 1914. Harmonica. Mixed technique. 62 х 68 cm. At the exhibition "Tramway V" cat. 49. State Russian Museum, inv. ЖБ-1521 1914. Still Life [with Hammer]. At the exhibition "Tramway V" cat. 57. Lost. The photo shows No. 100 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop, 1959-1966 1915. White Ball. Mixed technique. 34 × 51 × 12 cm. Shown at the exhibition "0,10". Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
1915. Suprematist Sculpture. Lost. On the photo - No. 102 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop (1959-1966) according to the author's draft (1915-1921) 1915. Suprematist Sculpture. Lost. On the photo - No. 103 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop (1959-1966) according to the author's draft (1915-1921). Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris 1915. Suprematist Sculpture. Lost. On the photo - No. 104 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop (1959-1966) according to the author's draft (1915-1921) 1915. Suprematist Sculpture. Lost. On the photo - No. 108 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop (1959-1966) according to the author's draft (1915-1921) 1915. Suprematist Sculpture. Lost. On the photo - No. 109 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop (1959-1966) according to the author's draft (1915-1921) 1919. Still Life [A plate fixed on a board]. Exhibited at the First state free exhibition (1919). Lost. On the photo - No. 114 of the catalogue raisonné, reconstruction of Pougny's workshop (1959-1966). Stuttgart State Gallery

Puni exhibited for the last time in Russia at the First State Free Exhibition (1919), held in the (former) Winter Palace. The catalogue lists 18 of his works, of which seven were Still Lifes and four Untitled. One of these still lifes was a plate mounted on a board. It was mentioned in the article "Праздник искусства" by an anonymous F. in the newspaper "Северная коммуна" (14 April 1919, P. 2): "The public stops in bewilderment in front of Puni's "works". Indeed, it is impossible to understand in what relation to art there is even a plate on a wooden board. Not a painting, not an image of a plate, but the most ordinary porcelain plate attached to a wooden board. Or his other "primitives" of the same kind. The plate is symbolic; it is a deduction ad absurdum of all those artistic endeavours that have gone entirely into form and completely abandoned content. In any case, these works belong in a laboratory or studio, but by no means in an art exhibition, where works of art are grouped together, creative rather than technical achievements."

Puni recalled the work with the plate in the catalogue of his exhibition at Der Sturm: "It provoked undeserved shouts: after all, this work was the last, final link of the naturalistic period, both in its physical composition (really the closest possible approximation to visuality and relativity) and in its suprematist construction, brought to complete simplification and laconism."
Note the kinship of this work, which concludes an important period for Puni, with the "White ball" created at its beginning.

Puni's catalogue raisonné lists a total of 16 reliefs, including the "White Ball" and two lost reliefs ("Card players" and "Green board", which were reported in newspaper articles in the course of the "0.10" exhibition). The remaining 13 reliefs are late reconstructions, most of which were mounted apparently under Xana's direction in 1959-1966 from drafts, which she and Ivan prepared in 1921 for an exhibition at Der Sturm gallery. This is stated in the catalogue raisonné (in obtuse form) as follows: "Between 1914 and 1917 he made about thirty pictorial reliefs, of which we know only a fraction today. The catastrophic winters of 1918 and 1919 forced the artist to sacrifice the reliefs to heat his studio. Therefore, most of the works listed below were restored by Puni thanks to models and drafts after his flight from Russia in 1920."
In fact, only one of the reliefs was reconstructed by Ivan himself in Berlin in 1921, namely Still Life with Hammer, which is confirmed by photographs of his workshop at that time. The existence of the other reliefs was never mentioned until 1959, when Xana began to actively restore and exhibit Puni's legacy in its entirety. As for the work "White ball" (1915, No. 105 of the catalogue raisonné, Musée National d'Art Moderne, gift of Xenia Boguslavskaya (1966)), we proceed from the fact that this is indeed the same 1915 work that Xana managed to track down in Leningrad and bring to France. In order to make sure that it is not a replica, made under her supervision (like almost all the other reliefs in the catalogue raisonné), it would be necessary to carry out a technological expertise.