Zaha Hadid + Suprematism
By Charlotte Douglas, et al.

February 11, 2014 /
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Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-cover.jpgZaha Hadid + Suprematism. Image courtesy Hatje Canz

By Kevin Holden Platt

The book "Zaha Hadid + Suprematism" unveils Zaha Hadid as an artist. It thereby portrays another side of the London-based architect Hadid, whose constant experimentation in architecture has led to her becoming over the past decade one of the globe's most popular and prolific building designers. 

The book "Zaha Hadid + Suprematism" presents a portrait of Ms. Hadid as an artist.

The expanding universe of Hadid's experimental designs, the book recounts, all began with a Big Bang-like explosion of creativity, sparked while she was studying in London. Her initial breakthroughs took place not in the three-dimensional sphere of architectural models, but in the flat-world realm of painting.

Today, Hadid's advances in experimental architecture are scattered like beacons across the surface of the Earth, yet she started out by depicting sites and cities exploding with change on the surface of canvases while enrolled at London's Architectural Association.

Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-1-malevichs-tektonik-painting.jpgMalevich's Tektinik. Painting by Zaha Hadid. Image courtesy Hatje Canz

Exploring the art of the Russian avant-garde

While there, Hadid says, she aimed to generate a new form of painting as abstraction, featuring freeze-framed perspectives of urban scenes undergoing super-speed transformation. She began exploring the art of the Russian avant-garde of a century ago - especially the Suprematist paintings produced by Kazimir Malevich, whose colored geometric shapes float across a world without gravity in works like "Suprematist Composition: Aeroplane Flying."

Recombining these techniques with her own aesthetics, Hadid has since produced a series of powerful paintings that present alternative futures for architecture and the city.

"These paintings are like a storyboard, like a film," Ms. Hadid said during an interview in Beijing.

Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-3-the-peak-paintings.jpgA painting in the "Peak" series  by Zaha Hadid. Image courtesy Hatje Canz

MOMA began collecting Hadid

In her Suprematist tableaux covering The Peak project slated to be built on a mountaintop overlooking Hong Kong's harbor, diving platforms, a pool, and building slabs all appear to be hovering above the site. Hadid's paintings helped her win first place in an international competition to design The Peak club in 1983.

Although she later suffered a setback - the client for The Peak in Hong Kong lost control of the site - leading art museums started collecting and exhibiting Hadid's Suprematist paintings.

New York's Museum of Modern Art began collecting her Peak series in 1988, while the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired several paintings, including "Malevich's Tektonik."

"These paintings are really incredible explosions of ideas," explained Aaron Betsky, who initially headed the San Francisco museum's acquisition of Hadid's canvases.

"These are spectacular works that have immense power … [and] are an alternate view of the world we thought we knew," added Betsky, now director of the Cincinnati Museum of Art. 

When awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, Hadid credited Russia's avant-garde with opening "a previously unimaginable realm of creative freedom" for artists and architects.

Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-5- Martin-Ruestchi-Galerie-Gmurzynska-Zurich.jpgExhibition at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich. Image by Martin Ruestch

Breathing new life into the warped and anti-gravitational space of Russian avant-garde painting

Three summers ago, the works of these Russian artists were juxtaposed with Zaha Hadid's own paintings in Zurich's Galerie Gmurzynska, in a cutting-edge show that she designed and curated.

Hadid "transformed the entire space into a work of art that you can walk into," said gallery director Mathias Rastorfer.

That exhibition has now given rise to the book, "Zaha Hadid and Suprematism," which traces her ongoing artistic dialogue with Russia's avant-garde.

Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-8-Victoria-Aerial-Windframe-Sculpture.jpgExhibition at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich. Image by Martin Ruestch

"The book," said Rastorfer, "is also an artwork that Hadid personally crafted."

In the book's introduction, Patrik Schumacher, chief theorist at Zaha Hadid Architects, writes: "Over ninety years ago the October Revolution ignited the most exuberant surge of creative energy that has ever erupted on planet Earth."

When Russia's revolutionaries seized power in 1917, they initially tolerated the utopia-seeking Suprematists.  But as Joseph Stalin consolidated power via police, prisons and purges, artist Malevich made his way to Germany, leaving a stash of his paintings and writings with friends there, along with a will to govern their disposition in the event of his "death or permanent imprisonment" upon his return to the Soviet Union, according to curators at Russia's Museum Online.

Nearly a century after Malevich's meteoric rise and fall, Schumacher writes that Hadid's work has breathed new life into "the warped and anti-gravitational space of Russian avant-garde painting."

Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-10- Martin-Ruestchi-Galerie-Gmurzynska-Zurich.jpgExhibition at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich. Image by Martin Ruestch

A new-age Michelangelo

Meanwhile, Galerie Gmurzynska's director predicted that "Zaha Hadid, her paintings and her abstract sculptures, will one day be in all the great museums."

The alternative visions portrayed in her Suprematist paintings laid the foundation for works, including her MAXXI art museum in Rome and the glowing, crystal-shaped Guangzhou Opera House in China, which were exhibited during Hadid's retrospective at the Danish Architecture Center during the summer of 2013. "These buildings are sculptures - they are so beautiful and so different," said Rastorfer. 

Art history books of the future, he suggested, might chronicle Zaha Hadid as a new-age Michelangelo: "Zaha has a Renaissance personality: she is an excellent painter, an avant-garde architect, an incredible draftsman, and on top of this she does amazing designs."

Zaha-Hadid-Suprematism-4-The World-89 Degrees-painting.jpgThe World (89 Degrees). Painting by Zaha Hadid. Image courtesy Hatje Canz

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 288 pages


 Hatje Cantz (October 31, 2012)



Last updated: February 11, 2014

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