Back to Black Square - Malevich at the Tate Modern

Kazimir Malevich hits big at the Tate Modern, with many critics calling this the exhibition of the year. 

The exhibition is a comprehensive, well-curated retrospective of the artistic career of Malevich, but there is one painting that remains central to the show: Black Square.

image 

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1913. State Tretyakov, Moscow, Russia. Image source.

This iconic painting — Malevich made several versions — neglected any relation to forms inspired by nature, opting instead for purely abstract figures. This ‘new art’ that dealt with radical concepts lead to the birth of the suprematist movement. Malevich stated: “To the suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling”.

image

The avant-garde painter experimented with many different styles during his artistic career, from impressionism to cubism to futurism before arriving at suprematism. As soon as we step into the exhibition we are immersed into this artistic journey that leads up to Black Square, where every work prior was clearly a culmination leading up to this, and everything after is a consequence of Black Square. As Priscilla Frank writes in The Huffington Post:

With “Black Square,” Malevich doesn’t want to start a political revolution: the piece is the revolution. In a world defined by constant change and progression, he aims to destroy all of it at once with a single pictorial “last word” for which there is no rebuttal.

image

Malevich’s trajectory is always reacting to the circumstance around him. He lived through a period of serious political upheaval in Russia, and these events directly influenced his works.

Towards the end of the exhibition we explore the last years of Malevich’s life. Malevich went through a tough period after suffering from cancer, being accused of espionage and being imprisoned and interrogated. His paintings took an interesting turn. Stalin had consolidated power and the experiments of the avant-garde were condemned. Malevich adopted a more realist style of painting, but always signed these paintings with a black square, signaling that he never renounced the radical gestures of suprematism. 

Malevich is a great exhibition with a lot of content sure to make the viewer understand and contemplate not only the artist’s career but also Russia’s political climate in the 20th century. 

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art is at Tate Modern from 16 July until 26 October 2014.