Black Square by Kazimir Malevich
Episode #6 of the course “Most famous paintings of all time”
Type: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 79.5 cm x 79.5 cm (31.3 in × 31.3 in)
Location: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Beginning in the late 19th century, art began to branch away from depicting realistic images or scenes of the ideal and took a turn in directions where artists aimed to use art as a tool to express life in new ways. One of the most extreme of these was Kazimir Malevich, who built off the early 20th-century cubist movement to create a new style he dubbed Suprematism. In 1915, he released his oil on linen canvas painting entitled Black Square, which is often studied as the prominent example of Suprematism.
An art theorist, Polish-born Kazimir Malevich was a Russian art critic interested as much in the thought behind a piece of artwork as the technique seen by the eye. While cubism flattened three-dimensional objects into a two-dimensional representation, distorting forms into geometry with overlapping angles, Suprematism focused on the geometry itself. The masterpiece is aptly named: a solid square of black is all that is presented to the viewer. Because of the technique of the painting, the material has absorbed some of the paint, leaving streaks and various shades of black throughout the square.
Breaking art down to its most basic elements of geometry and color, Malevich painted a series of circles and squares in various colors to show how simplicity still evokes an emotional response, which he believed is the supreme objective of art. Above all, Malevich used geometry to express the feelings of art as the most supreme experience when interacting with an art piece. He believed that shapes themselves express an element of life, both for the creator and for the viewer. Black Square is a foundational piece for understanding the movement toward abstract art in the 20th century as well.
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