Sub Editor Sophia Hinton-Lever experiences the Whitechapel Gallery’s newest exhibition – ‘Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society’
Beginning with Kazimir Malevich’s oil on canvas painting Quadrilateral, (1915), Adventures of the Black Square exhibits a series of monochromatic painting’s and geometric abstractions inspired by many in the Modernist art movement. I draw attention to the word inspired . Inspire alludes to the idea that each of the pieces meticulously displayed in Whitechapel’s newest exhibition have aspects that are specifically derived from Malevich’s work. Although this may be true on a purely aesthetic level, like Modernism itself, the influences tend to play a game of cat and mouse with our own inquisitive minds. On closer inspection of the seemingly simplistic Black Square, one notices how the delicate fibres of the canvas distort the cleanliness of the image by casting infinitesimal shadows on the monochromatic work. There is something metaphorical in such tiny destructive details that mirror the fundamental ideologemes of Modernist movement in all art forms. Notions such as the consideration of the banal being beautiful. Take Marianne Moore’s poetry, for so many it seemed incomprehensible, however, when taken a word at a time, it conjures exquisite imagery that feeds the imagination. Adventures of the Black Square works in a similar fashion – the art, when understood individually, can begin to paint a picture of the progression and defiance it represents within our society.
By definition, quadrilateral is a polygon with four sides (or edges) and four vertices or corners. The exhibition itself mirrors Malevich’s ideals by dividing itself into four themes; Utopia, Architectonics, Communication and The Everyday. Although the themes are not always evident – and wouldn’t it be boring if they were – having the structure mirror a fundamental notion of Malevich’s work creates a cohesive structure to the already regimentally ordered display.
Within the first room of the exhibition we can find El Lissitzky’s innovations in Proun artistry – the blend of art and architecture – and Piet Mondrian’s famed Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red. If you aren’t versed in Mondrian’s work, then have a look at your families collection of art deco plates you always hated…it will give you some idea. These examples lie among work created by artists scattered around the world who have manipulated and translated pre-existing forms of artistic media. These works embody their personal view of how to mirror society with what has been dubbed abstract art. The effects of dehumanising events such as civil wars, the fight for feminism and the influx of technology into everyday life are interestingly portrayed. Responses to semio-captialism reside in the mechanical influence that is seen throughout the exhibition in the distortion of things, like typography, as representative of the mechanics of society. In this exhibition, we are clearly viewing an art movement that was a product of a period in time that was in flux. Of course all artwork stems from an emotive reaction to an occurrence of person, however there is something seminal about the Modernists at this Whitechapel exhibition. They grew out of the destruction of the world wars and re built culture, but a culture for and from the people.
I will admit that the chronological progression of the paintings does not feel like an adventure until the first floor has been deciphered, and the beginnings of Abstract Modernism have been understood. Well, as understood as possible without having an aneurism that no doubt in itself could be described as a reactionary piece of art. The employment of different forms of media such as Dan Flavin’s light sculpture Monument set off against pieces that incorporate visual and sonic art – sadly nothing tactile – amalgamate to display a wide breath of the plethora of reactionary art.
This exhibition has taken on the unspeakable by attempting to encapsulate a movement that’s lucidity is infamous. Kazimir Malevich and Modernism are synonymous with the abstract in society with both influencing and informing each other. This collaboration has been carefully framed by the Whitechapel gallery and thus explosively depicting the progress in the pivotal creative period of abstract Modernism.
Whitechapel Gallery – E1
Dates – 15 Jan – 06 Apr 2015
Images via Creative Commons