Adventures of the Black Square

Abstraction of all shapes and sizes, of all colours and mediums take over Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition space in the east-end.

Upon entering the gallery, the first object your eyes demand to settle on is Kazimir Malevich’s fundamental Black Square. This bold, radical work quite rightly establishes an introduction to the developing narrative of abstraction; this history unfolds chronologically throughout the space with a vast number of works by over 100 artists.

Colourful shapes and lines vibrate across the walls, the floor and freestanding on plinths in the centre of the space. On the first floor of the exhibition we discover the ‘Abstract Greats’ such as Piet Mondrian, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and of course Kazimir Malevich. On this floor, there were a few highlights for me in particular. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in Josef Albers painting Post Autumn (1963). This square, yellow canvas radiates light, hypnotizing viewers with its abstract tunnel of depth; reminding us of the blurrier, melancholic works of Albers’ past student – Mark Rothko. Another work not to be missed is hidden in a corner on the first floor, André Cadere’s Barre de Bois Rond (1970-78). Cadere’s work unsettles the traditional confines of sculpture and painting, combining the two in one long coloured pole, propped up between the gallery wall and floor. Other highlights include the mesmerizing photographic work of Hungarian artist Dora Maurer, Seven Twists (1979), and Dan Flavin’s minimalist light sculpture Monument for V. Tatlin (1966-1969) fixed opposite Carl Andre’s grid floor installation.

On the second floor we begin to reach a more contemporary period of abstraction, passing works by Rosemarie Trockel and K.P. Brehmer. Certainly a more colourful arrangement, the second floor galleries see a range of rainbow-spectrum works. A favourite of mine has to be David Batchelor’s October Colouring-In Book (2012-2013), an appropriation of Artforum’s first issue through the colouring of bright shapes over the pre-existing text. This playful work is accompanied by Adrian Esparza’s weave work, another colourful play on abstraction through the reweave of serape blankets onto a blank wall.


Finally I feel I must mention Josiah McElheny’s Interactive Abstract Body (2012) sculpture performance. Following a mapped out line on the floor, a performer paces through the gallery wearing a triangular mirrored shape which reflects everything and everyone it passes by. This work announces abstraction in performance on the second floor galleries of Whitechapel, and acts as a great addition to the other diverse, abstract works found in the exhibition.

Adventures of the Black Square is a worldwide, visual story of how abstraction began and developed into the contemporary.


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