Black Square

Black Square: Malevich and the Origin of Suprematism

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Black Square
    Book Description:

    Kazimir Malevich's paintingBlack Squareis one of the twentieth century's emblematic paintings, the visual manifestation of a new period in world artistic culture at its inception. None of Malevich's contemporary revolutionaries created a manifesto, an emblem, as capacious and in its own way unique as this work; it became both the quintessence of the Russian avant-gardist's own art-which he called Suprematism-and a milestone on the highway of world art. Writing about this single painting, Aleksandra Shatskikh sheds new light on Malevich, the Suprematist movement, and the Russian avant-garde.

    Malevich devoted his entire life to explicatingBlack Square's meanings. This process engendered a great legacy: the original abstract movement in painting and its theoretical grounding; philosophical treatises; architectural models; new art pedagogy; innovative approaches to theater, music, and poetry; and the creation of a new visual environment through the introduction of decorative applied designs. All of this together spoke to the tremendous potential for innovative shape and thought formation concentrated inBlack Square.

    To this day, many circumstances and events of the origins of Suprematism have remained obscure and have sprouted arbitrary interpretations and fictions. Close study of archival materials and testimonies of contemporaries synchronous to the events described has allowed this author to establish the true genesis of Suprematism and its principal painting.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16229-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Black Square, by Russian avant-gardist Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935), is one of the twentieth century’s emblematic paintings, the visual manifestation of a new period in world artistic culture at its inception. The work of Giotto once signaled just as visibly a new era in civilization, when artists turned to reality. The revolution of the Florentine who provided the impetus for the Renaissance ultimately rid religious and mythological images of the conventional symbolic and canonical presentation inherited from Byzantium. For the next few centuries artists made verisimilitude—the mimetic reproduction of reality—the basis for their work.Black Square’screator thought...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. 1-53)

    For many long decades it was believed that Kazimir Malevich’sBlack Squarefirst appeared in 1913. The artist himself dated it to that year, and scholars trusted him implicitly.

    We know that superstitious people consider the number thirteen unlucky, and as fate would have it, the thirteenth year of the twentieth century was indeed an unusual year for Russia. On the eve of its demise, the huge empire had achieved a prosperity unprecedented in its history. After the establishment of Soviet power and over the many decades of its ascendancy, the Soviet Union’s successes would be compared with the level...

    (pp. 54-100)

    Abstract painting demanded to be fitted out verbally. We encounter the terminological definition “Suprematism”—with a capital letter—for the first time in a letter to Matiushin dated September 24, 1915: “I’m thinking that ‘Suprematism’ is most suitable.”¹

    The word had its roots in Malevich’s native language, Polish, to which it had come, in turn, from the Latin of the Catholic liturgy.Supremaciameant “superiority,” “dominance”; for the artist in the initial stage, “Suprematism” established the supremacy of color energy in painting.

    In time, Suprematism fully revealed its morphogenic power and the potential of its all-encompassing style, unlike the expressive...

  8. CHAPTER 3 FROM “0.10” TO “STORE”
    (pp. 101-135)

    The “0.10” exhibition, as has already been said, is considered one of the ten most important exhibitions of the twentieth century and has been the subject of close analysis on several occasions.¹

    Let us look first at the title, with its unusual form of a fraction: “The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10 (Zero-Ten).” The literature rigorously repeats the interpretation of authoritative art scholar Ye. F. Kovtun, who was guided by Malevich’s letter to Matiushin (“We are venturing to put out a magazine and are starting to discuss how and what, and in view of the fact that in it...

    (pp. 136-250)

    Color as such was central for Malevich between 1915 and 1918. He originally contemplated Suprematism in painting as the dominance of color’s energetic essence consolidated into various geometric shapes. According to this logic, nonobjective pictures were immediately transformed into non-genre ones as well, acquiring, to use their creator’s terminology, the status of color-painting, that is, painting as such. In the art of the European revolutionary modernists the battle against traditions unfolded in the plane and in landscapes, portraits, genre scenes, thematic pictures with allegorical and symbolical subtexts, and, primarily, still lifes; still life–ization, as we know was one of...

    (pp. 251-271)

    Malevich maintained a tremendous creative tension throughout the revolutionary year of 1917. Despite his huge burden of public work, he kept drawing new pictures. His neologism for them, “color-painting,” expressed the content of his “supremus” canvases. Although similar in technique and materials to painting, color-painting, according to Malevich, had nothing to do with painting because painting was “charged” with goals, characteristics, and traditions extraneous to the life of color.

    The life of color as such seemed to the Suprematist of a piece with the laws of the Universe; nonobjective color generated the sensation of its nonobjective, extra-figurative being. These sensations...

    (pp. 272-274)

    Kazimir Malevich began his move toward absolute nonobjectivity in 1913. In the beginning, the entire process was hidden and pertained primarily to plastic art. Rebelling against ossified traditions, the avant-gardist tried to use his a-intellectual, irrational compositions to prove the meaninglessness of art’s established laws and frameworks. This led inevitably to the blurring and destruction of art’s boundaries and to an expansion of the field of creative activity. The dimension in which the destruction of old traditions occurred was absurdist Fevralism, Malevich’s first personal “ism.” During the era of Fevralism, which lasted from early 1914 until mid-1915, the avant-gardist’s sphere...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 275-316)
    (pp. 317-320)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 321-346)