Installation in Venice to re-imagine Lenin’s tomb within Malevich’s black cube

Project marking centenary of Russian Revolution aims to highlight "potency of symbols in post-truth world"


Visitors to the 57th Venice Biennale (13 May-26 November) this summer can see a sculptural rendering of Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum housed inside a 3D version of Kasimir Malevich’s famous black square. The project is known as Object Number#1, the enigmatic title given by Russian officials to Lenin’s body in 1924 after the Bolshevik leader had died.

The initiative, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, is a collaboration between the London-based cultural institution Grad (Gallery for Russian Arts and Design); Madrid’s Factum Arte, described as a “digital mediation company”; and the London-based architects Skene Catling de la Peña.

New technology will turn the Suprematist artist Malevich’s painting Black Square on a White Ground (1915) into the 8m black cube located on the Zattere in Venice. A reconstruction of Lenin’s sarcophagus, based on the architect Konstantin Melnikov’s original 1920s design, will be positioned within the cube.

“Encased within the sarcophagus will be a sculptural rendering of Lenin made using a process of depth-mapping,” a press statement says. A 60-seat amphitheatre will surround Lenin’s mummified corpse, where visitors can debate the “contemporary meaning of these two resonant images”, the statement adds.

Elena Sudakova, the director and principal curator of Grad, tells The Art Newspaper: “When you enter the cube, you’ll see a very realistic image of Lenin projected on to the wall based on the first of his death masks. It is almost as if we are allowing Malevich to consume Lenin. When you turn around, he will be printed life-size in 3D. From one angle, it will look like an image of the body of Lenin; from another, it will look like a void.”

The installation aims to raise questions about issues such as power and mythmaking in Russia over the past century, highlighting the rise of populist politics worldwide. “We are bringing to Venice two icons of the 20th century: Malevich’s black square and Lenin. We want to address the past and question the potency of symbols, which is relevant in the post truth-world,” Sudakova says.

She adds: “Russia is being very silent about the anniversary [of the Russian Revolution]; I feel that the language is not there. It is very confusing for the country which cannot move forward.” Lenin’s preserved body has been on display in Red Square in Moscow since 1924. “The symbolism has gone; Lenin lies as a relic but what does he represent?” Sudakova asks.  “Is it essential that he is buried and that the country moves on?”

UPDATE 17 March: The Object#1 project has been temporarily postponed. "It is our hope that Object#1 will be realised within the next two years," says a spokeswoman.