Art in Focus – March 2022
Oil on linen, 1915
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
A painting that is simply a black square. Really? This work by Kazimir Malevich caused an uproar when it was first shown in 1915. The plain black canvas (albeit now with a crackled surface due to the passage of time), has been called the most seminal painting of the 20th century. Malevich was part of the Russian avant-garde working at a time of great turmoil in Europe. They were inspired by the modern art movements that were sweeping away traditional ideas of what art should be. Malevich’s work was becoming more and more abstract, consisting of colourful, geometric shapes. But in a quest to be increasingly simple and ‘pure’, he found himself gradually removing any recognisable content. He painted over earlier works until finally making the Black Square, which he called the ‘zero point’ of art. It was an ultimate expression of reductionism: a declaration that all recognisable visual imagery can be pared down to the simplest possible forms, and all that matters is feeling. Malevich called this new movement he heralded as ‘Suprematism’: it was about ‘non-objective creation’. It is particularly significant that when he first showed Black Square in an exhibition in Petrograd in 1915, he deliberately hung it in what is known as the ‘beautiful corner’, the place in a Russian home reserved for a precious religious icon, representing the presence of God. Hence the uproar. Ever since, it has been a divisive piece. Was it a despairing image for the absence of God in a world that was losing all meaning? Or, as Malevich evidently believed, a symbol for a new spirituality: a window into another dimension?
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney
This article was published in the March 2022 edition of Reform