Monday, March 14, 2011

Black Square: Malevich and The World That Wouldn't Die


Here it is: the end of the world.
I am standing in front of it, and it looks like shit.
It is Kasimir Malevich's "Black Square", it hangs at the New Tretyakov national gallery in Moscow, and it is dirty, tired, bleak, so unimpressive it is embarrassing to see.
And yet, that is the end.
This can well be seen as the point where art enters the other world zone, leaving our poor miserable world of bodies behind. This art is spiritual, declares Malevich, and I am ready to believe him, not on faith, but because at this point faith is the only thing that can carry me as a viewer. To appreciate it - I think while standing in front of the painting - I need to believe that what my mind brings me when looking at this painting, it brings thanks to the painting. (And that it's worth the trip). Any thought, then, is a belief.
The painting is all cracked, it seems like it lived through terror, two wars and a revolution (it did).

For a while, I wonder what disturbs me in all this. I take Malevich's painting as an ever-returning challenge. We are challenged to accept this or go beyond this. We are challenged to deal with the out-of-this-worldliness of aesthetic creation. Supreme it is.

I thought all this quite disappointing, a concept I would have rather kept as a concept, a story, rather than seeing it translated into a poor somewhat-black square. But what about the painting? Doesn't it have anything to say? The cracks are most probably the result of the artist being in a hurry (it seems he put the black layer over the white one before the latter dried out). The strokes, we can clearly see, are uneven, quick, there is nothing uniform about this, and even the outside lines of the square are uneven (he is said to have painted it free hand, and very free it was). It is not a good square. Or, no: it is not the square we are told it is. It is a square that tells the history of its creation, the story of the tension, the energy, the impatience. It is a clear window into something that happened, into a performance of painting and a moment of life. In that sense, the painting appears better than we ever could have dreamed. It goes back to this world. The painting outdoes the painter - through unveiling something more than what he had planned.
Inside of the cracks, if we watch carefuly, we see another color, it is not black or white, and at moments it seems like it's not grey either. It varies from spot to spot, it is reddish, brownish, somewhere close to the color of flesh. It is the color of revenge. The revenge of the painting.

21 comments:

natg said...

I havn't seen this painting in person, just in books. I'm so surprised to see the painting's current condition. It's not the strong square my text books have made it out to be, lol. Nonetheless, I still find it appealing.

Kristin Hjellegjerde said...

I am in awe at your great personal description.

Lutz Eitel said...

But it's not a painting, it's an illustration to an art-historical event. (You are aware Malevich made an "improved" replica in 1923?)

vvoi said...

Lutz,
I was not actually aware of the improved replica, or rather, I must have known but have no recollection. I checked - indeed, it's in St.Petersburg, and at least on some reproduction I saw it seems more, well, black.

BTW, it sounds like a great definition of an art work: an illustration of an art-hitorical event, hehehe.

Alex Wilde - El Experimento said...

The painting gives me goosebumps...it's cracked, color black seems like the earth was burnt from strongest solar flare. Like the one I've seen in National Geographic.

DJ Twisted Sister said...

The painting gives off a definite "this is the end" vibe - as if by the artists statement, the end would be a dark hole of artistic decomposition. A jump-the-gun visionary to be sure - not surprised he resurrected it later on when he wasn't feeling as bleak.

Craig Belshaw said...

Wow you can literally see "The End" *shudders*

TempletonPA said...

I think the original context of this painting gives it even more significance. It would have been displayed in a salon type room with many other paintings. I imagine a wealthy room with a patchwork of Rococo, Neoclassical, Impressionist, etc. paintings covering the walls. Then in the middle of this bourgeois collection of fine art an abyss-like black void.
It was painted right before the Russian revolution. In it's way it was fighting back against the decadence of the Russian aristocracy. It is like death by black square.

Sarkis said...

From your description I can see the painting better than in the reproduction posted (which I don't think does the painting justice).

Personally I haven't heard of Malevich or his work, thank you for powerfully portraying this piece and introducing this artwork. Are you sure he didn't plan the cracks in the paint, though?

Jon said...

Certainly looks different here than in some of the books. Still a crazy work. i find it hard to contemplate, and hard to find appealing.

http://theglobalherald.com/section/entertainment/art/

Anthony Stuart said...

Your description of this painting has made me see it in a whole new light. Thank you for your poetic words. I hope you continue to describe paintings in such a beautiful way.

Edouard S said...

When the decrepitude of a modernity masterpiece continue to empower it by giving it meaning and sense... It's like the Art symbolic power is wakened by tides of Time, and come back to liberate the artpieces from the iconic statuses and interpretation codes into they have been locked...

jhon Mathew said...

It sounds like a great definition of an art work.I'm so surprised to see the painting's current condition. It's not the strong square my text books have made it out to be, lol. Nonetheless, I still find it appealing.

inma said...

Hi! I love Malevich and I have just discovered your site! congrats and by the way, very funny your advise to the readers before posting comments. This is not spam! regards from Spain.

sisil said...

i wish i can paint like this amazing painting...

Granite Dining Tables said...

This is a masterpiece. I never saw this kind. But it's spectacular.

Andy Morris said...

Lutz summed it up nicely an illustration to an art-historical event. I have only seen it in books as well.
A bit disturbing, nihilistic I think.
As I paint there are days when my work becomes increasingly dark, I purposely rescue the canvas with a splash of bright red or a swath of pure white to break through the depression eveloping me. I live for Color!

Anonymous said...

I never really felt much for the replica they show in most books, but seeing the real thing with the description really made the work 'alive' for me.

David said...

Beautifully written. It made me rethink my understanding of Malevich's squares. thanks.

life on my own term said...

Beautiful and deeply meaningful. Great description too. And I agree with Sarkis that the words enabled me to see the painting better as well.

pop art said...

i do kinda like it. I've not seen it in person but, its very strong and emotional

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