Adventures of the Black Square: an exhibition of abstract art

An exhibition on the history of abstract art over the past 100 years has opened at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015 presents the development of abstraction, divided into four subsections and displayed in chronological order.

Source: © Moderna Museet, Stockholm. 2004 courtesy gift of Bengt and Jelena Jangfeldt

Kazimir Malevich, Black and White. Suprematist Composition, 1915

The exhibition begins with Kazimir Malevich’s painting “black square” (Black and White. Suprematist Composition, 1915), which is used as a thematic starting point to explain how abstraction articulated ideas about politics and society, explains Sophie McKinlay, Exhibitions Manager at Whitechapel. Gallery.

“Beginning with the hand-painted rendering of a black square, viewers are taken on a journey that shows how the language of abstraction has been used around the world,” she says.

Piet Mondrian

Source: © DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2014. Courtesy of the Tate Collection: Purchased 1964

Piet Mondrian, Composition with yellow, blue and red, 1937-42

“Malevich’s black square made people think about figurative art in a much more important way,” says McKinlay. “It allowed artists to develop a new language about the world. The image had to be created by someone, because it didn’t already exist in nature – it was a radical approach.

The four subsections of work include Utopia, illustrating the visions and dreams that Malevich and his colleagues had after the creation of the Black Square, Architectonics, examining the architectural realization of these ambitions, Communication, showing how these ideas were translated to worldwide. through magazines and other media, and The Everyday, exploring how ideas have become part of what we experience in our daily lives.

BLOK, n.  Magazine 6-7 - Warsaw, Poland, 1924

Source: Lafuente Archives

BLOK, n. Magazine 6-7 – Warsaw, Poland, 1924

“The Communication section shows the global exhibition site of experimentation and shows how artists used typography and the language of abstraction to form the layout of magazines in a strident graphic style,” says McKinlay, who organized the exhibition magazines.

She adds, “The ideas were at the heart of the artwork, and then were disseminated by magazines, which promoted them and made them available to the general public.”

Nikolai Punin magazine - Petrograd, Russia, 1920

Source: Lafuente Archives

Nikolai Punin magazine – Petrograd, Russia, 1920

The magazines used were borrowed from the Archivo Lafuente – one of the largest collections of avant-garde magazines in the world – in Santander, Spain.

Magazine Spirale 3 - Bern, Switzerland, 1954

Source: Lafuente Archives

Journal Spirale 3 – Bern, Switzerland, 1954

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalog of essays by curators, including: Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE and General Curator Magnus af Petersens, with assistance from Sophie McKinlay, Assistant Curator Candy Stobbs and an advisory committee of four other people.

Gabriel Orozco

Source: © the Artist. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

Gabriel Orozco, Light Signs #1 (Korea), 1995

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015 runs from 15 January to 6 April 2015 at Galleries 1, 8 and 9, The Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel, High Street, London, E1 7QX.

Alexander Rodchenko

Source: © Rodchenko & Stepanova Archives, DACS, RAO, 2014

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Radio Station Tower, 1929

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