Beneath The Black Square

black square

I’m no aficionado of many “isms” in modern arts, suprematism  being one of them. Many of my posts in the category of arts bespeaks of it. Thus Kazimir Malevich‘s Black Square (all  four of them) never stirred any deep emotions in me except for bewilderment and disdain.

I’d seen the “first original” of the painting in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow when it was not quite 50 years old, being first exhibited in 1915. I was young then, and felt quite inadequate, all right, but still couldn’t make myself stand there and appreciate the “cosmic blackness” of the canvas before me, no matter what art critics were saying.

A Short History Of BLACK CANVAS — Square And Otherwise, my earlier post, tells the story of Malevich’s square, which was neither the first nor the original creation. But he was the first one who insisted that the hoax, parlor fun, a mockery of art jotted to fetch a few laughs, is, indeed, a new word in art. And there were people around him who insisted on this concept among the sea of whistles and indignation, and they won.

Kazimir Malevich. Self-portrait.

Kazimir Malevich. Self-portrait.

Tomorrow, the Black Square will become a centerpiece of the Tretyakov Gallery’s current exhibition “The Mark of Malevich,” to commemorate and celebrate the centenary of the unveiling of the artist’s Black Square in 1915.

“The Mark of Malevich. Graphics From the State Tretyakov Gallery’s Collection” will run until February 14, 2016.

However, Wednesday in the Gallery wont’t be the usual shaming of skeptics into recognizing the black blotch on the canvas as a masterpiece. Oh, no. Tomorrow, at an exhibition opening, the gallery’s art experts will present an astounding findings discovered under the layer of black on that famous square…

The museum, which owns one of the three versions of the work, performed an x-ray analysis on the top layer of black paint to uncover the underlying images. The findings could reveal the story behind the groundbreaking artwork.

For years, there were rumors among the skeptics that the artist was unable to finish the picture at the time for the upcoming exhibition, and, mightily frustrated, covered the unfinished work with black paint. The unsuspecting audience lauded the black canvas as the new word in art. Malevich haven’t found the courage to dispel “the spell of the black”, rather, he perpetuated the legend.

He used to say that he had created The Black Square in a mystical trance, under the influence of a “cosmic consciousness” experience.

The suggestions to investigate the canvas for finding the original image under the top layer were made repeatedly. However, scientists and critics felt that the masterpiece could be irreparably damaged should it be subjected to any sort of analysis.

How odd it that! The works of Old Masters — El Greco, Cranach, Breughel, Rigaud, Largillière, Vigée Lebrun, Guercino and Bassano, British artists Raeburn, Lawrence, Romney, Reynolds and Wright of Derby, and 20th century artists such as  Vuillard, Marinetti, Hodgkin, and Jones — were analysed and underwent extensive restorations. But not Malevich — god forbid a spec of black should be disturbed! How would you restore it then!

And now, finally, the sacred black was x-rayed. Similar tests have been known to lead to breakthrough discoveries. Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie used x-rays to determine that a Rembrandt canvas had been repainted by Joshua Reynolds, and a second image was found beneath the surface of another painting by the Dutch master. There was even a new painting added to Claude Monet‘s oeuvre when his signature was found on a “Haystack” painting thanks to a hyperspectral camera.

“It was known that under the Black Square, there was some underlying image,” Ekaterina Voronina, an art researcher at the Tretyakov told Kultura TV. “We found out that there is not one image, but two.”

Malevich himself used to say that he had created “The Black Square” in a mystical trance, under the influence of a "cosmic consciousness" experience. Source: Yuri Somov / RIA Novosti

Malevich at the Tretyakov Gallery. Source: Yuri Somov / RIA Novosti

God in Heaves! He did, indeed, painted over his canvas to cover something else he was painting, and — viola tout! — critics gashed,  “Malevich freed the concept of art from all its traditional rules, signified the square as something new, attached to it a null form, and made it the basis of a new art, which he named Suprematism...”

“We proved that the initial image is a Cubo-Futurist composition, while the painting lying directly under the Black Square—the colors of which you can see in the cracks—is a proto-Suprematist composition.”

The x-ray analysis also uncovered a handwritten note by the artist on the painting’s white border which is still being deciphered. However, according to AFP, preliminary investigations have revealed that the text says “Black men battling in a cave.”

The note may be a reference to an 1897 black square painting by the French writer Alphonse Allais titled Combat des Negres dans une cave, pendant la nuit (“Black Men Fighting in a Cellar at Night.”)

If the preliminary interpretation holds up, it could support a connection to the earlier French painting, demonstrating that one of Malevich’s most famous works was in fact an art historical response or an interpretation of Allais’s piece, showing that the Russian artist’s pool of influences had been much broader than previously thought.


Right. Art historical response. That’s how plagiarism is called in art lingo, I suppose. Notice how oblique and vague is the verbiage used by the art researcher at the Tretyakov, as though painted over… Ah,well, I must be gloating. Can’t help it, though.

Victor Bogorad. To the centennial of The Black Square.

Victor Bogorad. To the centennial of The Black Square.

And another one as a finishing touch:

Time to get out, Malevich is coming.

Time to get out, Malevich is coming.


One comment on “Beneath The Black Square

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