Art History Happy Hour

The Revolutionary Language of the Black Square

September 27, 2021

Back in February 2015, we discussed the history of 19th century French political satire in response to the tragedy of the mass shooting at the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. In the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol in January 2020, our minds turned once again to the relationship between politics and the visual arts. This time around, we thought we would extend our conversation into the early 20th century, focusing on the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich and "Suprematism," which he developed in the heady years leading up to the Russian Revolution.

While Malevich's iconic "Black Square" paintings can seem like a radical break with the past, in this episode, we look at the trajectory of his career to understand how they emerged out of the context of early 20th century Russian and European avant-gardes. We conclude by discussing how a non-representational painting can still "represent" political ideals, and also touch on recent scholarship that revealed the painting's origins in anti-Black racism.

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