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Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015

27 January 2015 Laura Stevens

Curated by Iwona Blazwick, this major new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery explores a century of abstraction with works from across the globe.

Whitechapel Gallery’s latest offering has a misleadingly simple title: Adventures of the Black Square. Taken from Kazimir Malevich’s radical ‘black square’ paintings that were first shown in Russia in 1915, this comprehensive exhibition is a major new display tracing an entire century of abstract art.

And curator, Iwona Blazwick OBE, certainly delivers on her promise to explore the whole one hundred years with over 100 works by 100 different worldwide artists. One of the arguments the exhibition beautifully denounces is the concept that abstract art only evolved in Russia, Europe and North America. Through the inclusion of work from across the world, geometric abstraction is clearly demonstrated in places as diverse as Tel Aviv, Tehran and Buenos Aires.

To help guide the viewer through this vast array of complex and challenging pieces the art is arranged chronologically, and into four key themes:

Communication – the possibility of abstraction for initiating radical change
Architectonics – how abstraction can underpin socially transformative spaces
Utopia – an ideal society without hierarchy and class
The Everyday – abstract art permeating all aspects of visual culture

Abstract art emerged at the start of the twentieth century and rapidly gathered speed from late 1911 onwards. At its genesis the term broadly covered works of art with no discernible subject matter, instead the image is created through colour, shape and texture. Not only an artistic practice, abstraction also is a historical idea with the concept being affected and shaped the socially, politically and culturally turbulent twentieth century.

When walking into Gallery 1 you are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of works on display – from paintings to sculpture to photographs – of all sizes and colours. The clean lines and block colours of the geometric works guide you through the extensive display which features work from 1910-1980s.

One striking piece is Gustav Klutsis’ 1922 designs for loudspeakers on loan from Greece. These new forms of communication were seen as transcending class and nationality, and are reflected in the pure colour and form on display.

Galleries 8 and 9 explore the utopianism of Modernism from the 1970s to 2010s. The works critically engage with a disillusion of the supposed ideal – how revolution turns to totalitarianism and communication has been hijacked by propaganda or advertising.

This is particularly elegantly illustrated through Gunilla Klingberg’s Spar Loop. The kaleidoscopic video work takes everyday logos and creates beautiful patterns out of their colours interrogating our constant bombardment of advertising images. 

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015 is a major new exhibition takes a fresh look at this new art and demands a viewer to question how art relates to society and politics.

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015 is on 15 January – 6 April at the Whitechapel Gallery. More information can be found here.

 


 

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