RESTART : Organic and Analytic Art in Russian Avant Garde

This is my 2nd blogpost about the SMCA’s latest show RESTART (the show is now over, of course) . In my first post, I talked about the ‘Lubki’, comic art from the Russian Avant Garde . This new post is dedicated to another small section of the show, which was actually hosted in just one room, the Analytic and the Organic Art, which are in fact quite interesting movements under the bigger umbrella of the Russian Avant Garde.

The artists of the Organic School of the Russian avant-garde are an important thread but although known to specialist art historians, are less known perhaps to the wider audience. I saw several of their works a few weeks ago and decided to write about them because I find them quite intriguing.


A central figure to this thread was Mikhail Matiushin (painter, teacher, composer and theorist) as well as his wife, the poet and painter Elena Guro. Their immediate circle, based in St Petersburg/Petrograd between 1913 to 1917,  included the painter Kazimir Malevich, the four Ender siblings (Ksenia, Boris, Maria and Yurii), Kulbin, Filonov, and Nikolai Grindberg. These artists, along with others, found inspiration  in the creative principles of nature which, at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries,  were facilitated by philosophical currents of that period.  Several philosophical writings of the time proposed an “organic perspective” which viewed the world in a “holistic” way where all its parts are linked to each forming a whole.   This along with developments in biology , rejecting Cartesian dualism of mind and matter and giving emphasis on how interconnected  a biological organism is with the surrounding world, had an impact on the aesthetic theory the Organic School developed and propagated.


Mikhail Matiushin
Painterly musical construction, 1918

Matyushin and his circle underlined this  reciprocity between man and nature. «Organic Culture» and «Spatial Realism» were his fundamental values. He tried to theorise his so called ‘expanded vision’ which did not involve  only the eyes, but expanded to involve other senses and thought so it aimed at unifying the eye’s central vision along with vision of the peripheral areas. He realised soon that if he wanted his theories to be acceptable politically, he had to express them scientifically which led him  to found the ‘Organic Culture Department», where Matyushin’s ideas on expansion were implemented and tested out through everyday visual functioning. Also, the artists working at the Department conducted biological research and  workshops were organised during which were also taught yoga, meditation and various exercises combined and designed so to «create and develop the artist». The goal of these experiments was to activate vision, so that the artists can render realistically not only the reality which is evident to the eye but also the microcosm .


Boris Ender (1919)

What was groundbreaking in these artists’ research was that color was studied in relation to its environment and not in an isolated way for the first time, and they considered color to be pleasing to the eye only when perceived together with its environment.

Just to show their difference with Suprematism at the time, there is an anecdote : Kazimir Malevic saw the work of Boris Ender and offered him work in his Department. «I offer you a straight line», he said. «But I am interested in a curve», Ender replied. Suprematism’s straight forms came in contrast with the curve lines of the Organic School which connected everything creating a whole.

Ksenia Ender (1917)

Pavel Filonov created his own theory of Analytical art, also known as “Universal Flowering”,  refuting the geometry of cubism and striving to reveal the inner soul of the objects in the paintings. He is nowcelebrated as one of the greatest Russian artists of the 20thcentury.

In Filonov ‘s approach to art,   emphasis is put on pictorial practice – on the moment  that creativity takes place. The finished product is not of equal importance.  According to him then, the work of art is developed on the canvas  in the same was as  flowers grow in nature. The artist therefore follows a labyrinthine line of minute images and starting the painting at some random point on the canvas and develop the representation, moving from the particular to the general forming  the compositions like in a kaleidoscope.


Pavel Filonov, ‘Head’

Filonov’s works, masterfully starting from tiny images which are then synthesized into complex images remain  encrypted and full of hidden and mystical messages for the spectator, striving in this way to make the invisible visible.

SULIMO-SAMUILO Vsevolod. Both pictures are fragments of a decorative panel for the Leningrad Printing House (1927)

I hope you have found the presentation of these artists’ work interesting, as have I, and I hope you will come back to read the posts that will follow in the future. Till then…..



      1. later will write short review on tripadvisor with one or two photos. Helps a little. also write on wordpress. like early on «Art by assemblage: the Watt’s experience». Try to make art also, for instance assemblages. separate website. kind regards, Drager


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