GINKhUK (The State Institute of Art Culture)

Department of Organic Culture “The origin of the first scientifically created AVANT-GARDE... with the overall designation of the State Institute of Art Culture.” (Mikhail Matyushin, early 1926)

Matyushin’s method “ZOR-VED. Expanded Looking’’ became the basis of the work of the Department of Organic Culture at the State Institute of Art Culture (GINKhUK) in Petrograd.
In 1923 under the aegis of the Petrograd State Museum of Art Culture, several research departments were created to study the latest movements in art: the Department of General Ideology (head, Pavel Filonov, later Nikolai Punin), the
Formal-Theoretical and Practical department (later renamed Painting Department, head, Kazimir Malevich), the Department of Material Culture (until fall 1925, head, Vladimir Tatlin, then Nikolai Suetin), the Department of Painting Technique, later renamed Experimental Department, head, Pavel Mansurov), and the Department of Organic Culture (head, Mikhail Matyushin). Each department had staff and students. There were around thirty people at GINKhUK in 1925-1926. [1]
Matyushin attracted artists to his department who had studied with him for five years at the Spatial Realism studio at the Academy of Arts: Boris, Maria, Xenia, and Georgy Ender and Nikolai Grinberg. In one of his lectures, Matyushin formulated> the goal of his department this way: “Malevich and I noted the quality, exclusively characteristic of artists, to perceive everything they see emotionally without caring about their ability to master what they perceive. This was the constant mistake of the unrecognized and the unorganized. This led us to solve the problems we face from a different perspective. I moved in the purely practical direction, Malevich, the theoretical.
And from this came the opportunity to more or less fully express our joint research and experiment effort.” In that manner the goal of the Department of Organic Culture was to use the principles of ZOR-VED in experiments and laboratory research to check, confirm or define the observed behaviors and interactions of the main methods of plastic language - form and color - and then later study the effect of sound upon them.
Work in the department followed the then-popular system of scientific organization (NOT). Every artist in the department ran his own program. All the staff, as well as auditors and artists, participated in every experiment. Four directions - touch, hearing, vision, and thought “with mandatory intersecting of all knowledge in every work,” as Matyushin wrote - determined the work of the artists of the Department of Organic Culture.
Matyushin prepared an outline for his colleagues of the work plan (see Addendum), covering a wide range of issues. Each of the propositions was later amended, but the essence of the problems remained the same right up to the break-up of GINKhUK in 1926 and its merger with the State Institute of the History of the Arts. Here work continued through 1927 and 1928 and then at the apartment of Matyushin or of his students.
The primary quality in studying color, form, and sound consisted in the fact that this was the first time they were being researched and observed not in isolation but in consideration of the spatial environment in which the objects under observation were found. This was achieved through “expanded looking/’ which created a profound understanding of interrelations, “fusion of essences and not appearances,” as Boris Ender put it. And he went on to write, “You can feel yourself on the earth, grown on it and grown into it, into its life, by looking at the sky. Man must see the sky with his eyes. That is why he turns to God in the sky. How I would like to see the sky through the earth.”[2] Ender’s notation very clearly reflects the state of the artist observing nature and apprehending it in his own being. Matyushin and his colleagues at the Organic Department called the works painted in that state of observation “the new perpendicular” [or “vertical”], looking along the horizontal, along the vertical, from the center, simultaneously along two perpendiculars, and so on.
Space on a painting surface could elicit a similar “cosmic” observation state not as background, distant or near, but as a color-light form that included in its organic volume objects of terrestrial and heavenly ‘landscapes/’ Uninterrupted structures of color-form were created - objective-nonobjective landscape-faces, bearing communicative sensations of nature primarily through color, its purity, radiance, and glow. This was the color “trembling” of Nature herself, viewed as an organic part of the Universe. “The visible sky is not empty space, but the very living body of the World, whose density we do not feel, but which surpasses everything. The earth and the sun are only glowing points of an enormous body. The earth’s orbit is not the trace of the earth’s movement, but the very body of the earth; the body of the sun passes through the body of the earth.”[3] That was Matyushin’s concept of organic volumes, their connections, penetrations, and contacts. This is no longer the phenomenon of “expanding looking” so much as the phenomenon of “expanded consciousness.”

Constant observations in the outdoors, which were then “tested” through experiments in the laboratory of the Department of Organic Culture, led to conclusions about several general rules on the mutability of color and form [in “expanded looking”]:

  1.  Color plays a form-building role: warm colors “soften,” rounding sharp forms, and cold colors sharpen rounded forms.
  2.  Change in color and form depend on expansion of angle of view.
  3.  Increase in color of form and environment under the condition of motion of that form in the given enviroment.
  4.  Change of color in time, in which an enormous role is played by a complementary color, which elicits in turn a second complementary and then a third, etc. (Matyushin called the complementary color the color of induction).
  5.  The role of movement in the increase of energy in color.
  6. The appearance of a third color - the linking one - between a colored object and its environment. Discovered in nature and confirmed by experiments at GINKhUK, it permits complex spatial correlations of colors, balances them on a painting surface, gives volume expressivity without the use of chiaroscuro, and cleanses colors, creating their unusual radiance.

Interesting conclusions were drawn in the laboratory about the “behavior” of forms in new conditions of observation -the naturally following complementary form for the basic form, as a result of which the basic one is deformed, the influence of form on another form in accordance with their interaction with their environment, the appearance of a definite form of the actual environment space, which does not remain neutral toward the form placed in the space. The artists made tables of their conclusions, which were usually displayed in their department’s summary exhibits at GINKhUK. They took place in 1924, 1925, and 1926. Special charts were made to be shown abroad, and were taken by Malevich in 1927. They remained in Germany and later ended up at the Stedeljik Museum in Amsterdam. The last conclusion charts were made in 1930 for a large and final exhibit by Matyushin and his students at the Leningrad House of Art. It was then that Matyushin came up with his Reference Book of Color, published in 1932. In the four notebook-charts of the reference book, each almost 1.5 meters long and done in hand gouache, are the principles of color harmonization on the basis of the concept of linking color, discovered by Matyushin and his students. The reference book is the summation of their work since 1923. Matyushin dreamed of publishing the second part of the Reference, dedicated to research on the interaction of sound with color and form, and through their hybridization, synthesis. Laboratory experiments with sound began at the Department of Organic Culture in 1926. Work on sound was preceded by Matyushin’s long years as a musician, composer, artist, pedagogue and researcher. He never separated those paths. In creating his musical images, he always “observed nature broadly,” and in his strivings as an artist he relied on the culture of music.
Research in sound developed in several directions: sound in conjunction with the environment, in conjunction with various forms, with movement of the color environment, with movement of various forms, with movement of the colored environment and colored form, and with contrast arising around the form.
These studies of sound were analogous to the work with color. Matyushin correlated the seven-step scale in sound with color. “Sound is the same wave vacillation as color,” he wrote in 1926-1927. “The words raspberry ringing, a thin sound, or thick, transparent, gleaming, matte - they define and clearly show that our eye seems to hear and our ear seems to see.”[4] Just as with color, it is necessary to find the connection between base and environment with the help of a naturally arising “linking” sound. “The analogy of color and sound - my work in color: basis, environment, link -gives me indications on how to work in the analysis of sound,” Matyushin wrote in 1933.[5] In that year, a year before his death, Matyushin returned to his work on color-sound, interrupted by the closing of GINKhUK in 1926. But even in 1926 Matyushin, and Boris, Xenia, and Maria Ender made many new observations dealing with sound, noise, and the most ordinary sounds: knocking, rustling, whistling, hissing, and so on.
They made models for the connection between sound and color and noise and color, and many tables for the interrelation of noise and light and sound and light. They studied sound timbres and overtones, they researched the ancient music of India, China, Africa, the North, and the Polynesian islands, as well as natural sounds (birds and so on) in their connection with color-form space. All of Matyushin’s colleagues played musical instruments: Maria Ender, the piano, Boris, the cello, Xenia, the viola. In 1928 Matyushin and Maria Ender performed a composition for quarter tones at the apartment of the music critic G. Rim-sky-Korsakov, the brother of the famous composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, with young Dmitri Shostakovich present. On January 1, 1927, GINKhUK was merged into the State Institute of the History of the Arts. GINKhUK ceased to exist as an independent institute.
With the merger came a new structure: The Committee for the Study of Modern Visual Art, with a Laboratory of Visual Art (K. Malevich), an experimental laboratory for the physics and physiological bases of visual arts (Matyushin, director, Maria Ender, assistant). Boris Ender became an assistant of the Committee of Modern Art Industry, headed by architect Alexander Nikolsky. For a brief period, Ender dealt with coloring buildings and then in 1927 moved to Moscow. Matyushin, Maria and Xenia (who was a part-time staff member), and nine artists who were former students of Matyushin were allowed to continue working on topics raised at the Department of Organic Culture at GINKhUK: finding the natural laws for the mutability of the color-form image under physical and physiological causes and then using those laws to create posters, designs, advertising and so on. February 6, 1928, was the opening day of “an exhibit of the works of artist-experimenter [Malevich] and the Committee of Modern Art Industry.” This was the final happening/action in the tradition of GINKhUK. The architect Nikolsky had founded a Scientific Research Office at the Leningrad Institute of Civil Engineering and with it a laboratory on color, headed by Maria Ender. Also working there without pay was Vera Shuenina-Nikolskaya, the architect’s wife. She worked on problem of color-form and the principles of coloring modern buildings. One of the assistants was the artist Vasily Vorobyov, who worked on color, texture, furniture, and making maquettes.
In 1930 Matyushin and his school made their last appearance at the Leningrad House of Art on Nevsky Prospect. Besides a chart (color, form, sound) there were many paintings and graphic works. That same year Matyushin tried to create at the House of Arts a studio with a broad program of synthesis in the study of colorform- sound and ties to industrial arts (textiles, posters, decorating assembly halls - wall colors, drapes, dishes, etc.) However, circumstances changed abruptly. In 1932 all the different groups were liquidated and the Artists’ Union was created. Its main thrust was Socialist Realism. Work on the Reference Book on Color was done at the apartment of one of Matyushin’s students.

Alla Povelikhina

[1] M. Matyushin, From a report on the work of the Department of Organic Culture for Five Years. Rough Draft, RO IRLI, f. 656, d. 66..

[2] Boris Ender, Diary, Notation of 27 May 1921..

[3] Mikhail Matyushin, Ob ob’eme novogo ponimaniia [On the Volume of the New Understanding], 1921. RO IRLI, f. 656, d. 30. Copy made by Maria Ender..

[4] Mikhail Matyushin, Nauka v iskusstve [Science in Art], Notes for a Lecture, 1926-27. RO IRLI, f. 656, d.36..

[5] Mikhail Matyushin, Zvuko-tsvet [Sound-Color], Notation of 24 October 1933, typescript, Private Archive..