December 3, 2013

This week in 1913: the Mona Lisa is found, “Suprematism” is unveiled



Just before one of its darkest moments came the twentieth century’s most exciting year . . .

It was the year Henry Ford first put a conveyer belt in his car factory, and the year Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet. It was the year Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie contract, and Coco Chanel and Prada opened their first dress shops. It was the year Proust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, and the first Armory Show in New York introduced the world to Picasso and the world of abstract art. It was the year the recreational drug now known as ecstasy was invented.

It was 1913, the year before the world plunged into the catastrophic darkness of World War I.

December 2-8

Date unknown: There has been no trace of the Mona Lisa since she was stolen from the Louvre two years ago.

But at the beginning of December the Florentine art dealer Alfredo Geri receives a letter. This portly, broad-shouldered and gregarious gentleman caters to Florence’s upper classes from his antiques shop in Via Borgo Ognissanti. The letter he is holding in his hands disturbs him. Is it the truth, or simply a letter from a lunatic? He reads it again: “The stolen painting by Leonardo da Vinci is in my possession. It is quite clear that it belongs to Italy, because the painter was Italian. It is my desire to give this masterpiece back to the country it came from and by which it was inspired. Leonardo.”

Date unknown: At the 1913 Futurist Congress in Uusikirkko, in Finland, Kazimir Malevich introduces the term “Suprematism,” which for him represents “the beginning of a new civilization.” He throws aside the burden of representational art, which still held even Cubism under its spell. He wants to move forward, and to a place where nothing is needed: no reality and no colors. In December 1913 he presents thirty-five of his latest works at the “0,10” exhibition in St Petersburg, including his Suprematist Manifesto and even his unprecedented painting Black Square on a White Background. The picture is an all-out provocation, and a revelation. For Malevich the square embodies the “zero state,” the experience of pure abstraction.

Date unknown: In Babylon the temple site of Etemenanki is discovered. It is the legendary Tower of Babel.

Meanwhile, Josef Stalin is freezing in his Siberian exile.