Kazimir Malevich

Among other works at the Tate’s Kazimir Malevich’s exhibition (autumn, 2014) two versions of Black Square were on display. The original, painted in 1915, is too fragile to travel. While presumably in a better condition the two representations, painted respectively in 1923 and 1929, still show signs of aging.


The pure, striking, contrast of black oil paint on white canvas of the original, shown in photographs of when it was first displayed in the Last Futurist Exhibition of 1915, has mellowed. The paint has cracked and the canvas yellowed. Nevertheless, the work remains arresting.


With his suprematism, or ‘perfected’ art; Malevich sought to propel art into the modern age. The simple, geometric shapes painted with a limited palette were based upon on what Malevich referred to as "the supremacy of pure artistic feeling", over the straight-forward reproduction of the visible.


Nonetheless, as the Tate exhibition reflects, Malevich was also concerned about how his work should be presented. The Black Square is hung - as the original was - high up in a corner of the room, As Shaw notes, the positioning is no accident: the upper corner of a room was where Russian Orthodox families would traditionally place religious icons[1].


Malevich saw his suprematism as nothing less than “the starting point for a wholly new approach to art” [2]. By stripping out all representation and perspective we don’t think whether it looks like what it is meant to show, but consider deeper questions around the nature of art itself.




[1] Philip Shaw (2013) ‘Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square’

[2] Tate catalogue (2015) ‘Kasimir Malevich’