The mystery behind the Black Square

By Liza G.

The mystery behind the Black Square

It is hard to tell where contemporary art started to kick in. There are many theories and opinions about that, and here is a great one: it all has started from the Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square. Some art historians say that this truly iconic painting made a revolutionary impact on the whole world of art. And yet, it remains full of mysteries and various interpretations, even after 100 years since it release.

So let us have a brief introduction to the history of this painting and a set of amusing facts about one of the most disputable art work of the 20th century and its creator.

1. Though Kazimir Malevich was famous for his contribution into the field of Abstract Art, he started as a figurative painter and was fond of the Impressionism.


Spring garden in blossom, 1904

2. Kazimir Malevich was a Russian Empire citizen, and he believed in the ideas of the October Revolution: equality for everybody and waiver of the aristocratic hierarchy in the society. Malevich was appointed for a certain period of time to design variety of events and symbols for the new government. He created three basic elements of the “new” art that were to keep up with all huge social changes and scientific progress.  He saw these symbols as a herald of a free era with totally different rules and billions of possibilities.



3. First appearance of the Black Square was during a futurist theatrical play Victory Over the Sun as a stage design. Play was written by Malevich’s friends who were excellent poets and composers. They wanted to create completely innovative piece with the usage of sound not related to the plot or any kind of meaning, and some bizarre linguistic experiments. These things lead him to the creation of Suprematism, new form of art that spoke with colors and shapes, forming almost rhythmical dynamics on the picture.

4. The main thing we should know about the Black Square – it is a depiction of an idea in its purest form. Malevich was one of the first artists that completely separated the painting from the field of objective reality and put it in the field of imagination and ideas. He deconstructed the picture to the simplest element, the essence of all paintings. It is the idea of art itself. We can also think about resemblance with pixel as we all know it is the smallest element of the digital image. Very futuristic idea for the beginning of 20th century with no sign of computers whatsoever, right?  

5. The iconic status of the painting was literally iconic. During the famous futurists exhibition 0.10 Malevich hanged the Black Square in the corner between two walls - it is traditionally the place for the Christian ikons in the Russian house. So basically he made a statement “This is our new religion.”


0.10 Exhibition 

6. There is not just the Black Square; Kazimir Malevich also did Red and White Square. This triptych referred to the three philosophical periods of perception; black symbolizes the new world establishment, red – the revolution, and white is a pure action, the result of a complete refusal of the objectivity in his Suprematism art. There is also not just the only one Black Square. It is actually four of them. The works differ in size, texture and color. The “original one” is considered to be the painting from the 0.10 exhibition. 


Red Square / White on White

7. Just as many other avant-garde artists, Malevich was repressed and became an outcast to the official art scene. New Soviet government gained the control over the cultural sphere and wanted the artists to clearly broadcast the ideas of the Communist Party, not the abstract intellectual art. The place of his grave was lost and forgotten after the Second World War, but we do know that he left specific instructions for his funeral. He wanted Black Square to be painted on his coffin, and to appear on his grave mark. During the funeral procession, his friends and students held flags with Black Squares on them; Malevich often signed the paintings not only with his name, but also with a square symbol. These show how he appreciated meaning behind the Black Square – the power of an idea over the objective reality. Nowadays we can dare to say, that it has been the motto of the 20th century, as well as the iconic Malevich’s Black Square.


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