Monday, January 12, 2015

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015

A major new exhibition tracing a century of Abstract art from 1915 to today is on show at the Whitechapel Gallery from 15 January 2015. The exhibition takes a fresh look at this new art for a modern age, and asks how art relates to society and politics.
Curated by Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director, and Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large, Whitechapel Gallery, Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015,(15 January – 6 April 2015), is international in its scope. As well as following the rise of Constructivist art from its revolutionary beginnings amongst the avant-garde in Russia and Europe, the exhibition sheds new light on the evolution of geometric abstraction from continents across the globe including Asia, the US and Latin America.
The exhibition begins with one of Kazimir Malevich’s radical ‘black square’ paintings. Alongside Malevich’s Black and White. Suprematist Composition (1915), included in the famous exhibition The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings: 0.10 (1915) in Petrograd, now St Petersburg, prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917, these iconic works are the starting point for telling the story of Abstract art and its political potential over the next century.
Arranged chronologically, the exhibition is divided into four key themes:
Communication’ examines the possibilities of abstraction for mobilizing radical change.
Architectonics’ looks at how abstraction can underpin socially transformative spaces.
Utopia’imagines a new, ideal society, which transcends hierarchy and class.
The Everyday’ follows the way abstract art filters into all aspects of visual culture, from corporate logos to textile design.
The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, film and photographs spanning the century from 1915 to the present, brought together from major international collections including Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; The Costakis Collection, Thessaloniki; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Tate, London; and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.
Further exhibition highlights include an entire wall filled with photographs documenting the radio towers of Moscow and Berlin by Aleksandr Rodchenko and László Moholy-Nagy amongst others, blow-up archive photographs of iconic exhibitions running through the history of abstraction and a selection of magazines which convey revolutionary ideas in art and society through typography and graphic design.
Events Programme
A programme of talks and performances expand on the themes of the exhibition, from an introduction to geometric abstract art by Whitechapel Gallery director and exhibition co-curator Iwona Blazwick (27 Feb, 3pm) to a major two-day symposium on abstraction and society bringing together experts in the field including Doug Ashford, Tanya Barson and Briony Fer (Fri 13 & Sat 14 Mar, 11.30am–6pm). Other highlights include a London re-staging of Daniel Buren’s iconic New York performance piece Seven Ballets in Manhattan (1975) (From Fri 30 Jan, 3pm and throughout Feb and Mar) and a work by Russian artist Anna Parkina (Sat 12 Mar, 7pm)merging live music, light and movement in an immersive abstract performance.

- The first examples of Abstract art emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. Both a historical idea to come out of the Modernist movement and an evolving artistic practice, abstraction was an international phenomenon that gathered speed rapidly from late 1911 when a series of artists including Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay and František Kupka broke away from tradition and presented works of art with no discernible subject matter, instead using colour, shape and texture to create new images. Other early pioneers of Abstract art include Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee and Hans Arp. The movement evolved over the 20th century and into the 21st century, affected by social movements, historical events and a rapidly changing modern culture of connectivity.
- Key moments in the history of Abstract art include the seminal exhibition The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings: 0.10 in St. Petersburg in 1915, which saw Kazimir Malevich present a series of paintings that depicted blocks of colour floating against a white background, the first example of geometrical abstraction. In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1917, artists Lyubov Popova and Aleksander Rodchenko emerged as central exponents of Russian Constructivism, inspired by the pre-Revolutionary work of Malevich and Tatlin. While in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg founded De Stijl, an artistic movement which in turn influenced the Bauhaus style. While abstraction has generated other more expressionist movements, for example post war Abstract expressionism in the 1940s and 50s, these strands are not examined in this exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. In Brazil in the late 1950s and 60s Neo-Concretist artists such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica developed a new social and participatory way of working. Today, contemporary artists still experiment and challenge ideas of representation and reality, influenced by society and the evolving world around them. Examples of this can be seen in work by artists such as Sarah Morris and Armando Andrade Tudela who demonstrate the influence of Abstract art on contemporary design and brands.
Dóra Maurer Seven Rotations 1 – 6, 1979, collection of Zsolt Somlói and Katalin Spengler © Dóra Maurer

- Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015, 15 January – 6 April 2015 is curated by Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director, and Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large, with Sophie McKinlay, Acting Head of Exhibitions and Candy Stobbs, Assistant Curator, Whitechapel Gallery. The Curatorial Advisory Committee for the exhibition includes: Tanya Barson, Curator, Tate; Briony Fer, Professor of Art History, University College London; Tom McDonough, Professor in Art History, Binghampton University, New York; and Jiang Jiehong, Professor of Chinese Art, Birmingham City University.
- Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015 is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with essays by the Curatorial Advisory Committee alongside Iwona Blazwick and Magnus af Petersens.

List of artists
Alexander Abaza, Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Francis Alÿs, Armando Andrade Tudela, Carl Andre, Nazgol Ansarinia, Rasheed Araeen, Doug Ashford, Chant Avedissian, Dmitri Baltermants, Lewis Baltz, Geraldo de Barros, David Batchelor, Max Bill, Kamal Boullata, KP Brehmer, Daniel Buren, Andrea Büttner, André Cadere, Ilya Chashnik, Iakov Chernikov, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Lygia Clark, Horacio Coppola, Waldemar Cordeiro, Keith Coventry, Angela de la Cruz, Thea Djordjadze, Theo van Doesburg, Adrian Esparza, Emmanuil Evzerekhin, Thomaz Farkas, Dan Flavin, Andrea Fraser, Gaspar Gasparian, Isa Genzken, Liam Gillick, Zvi Goldstein, Peter Halley, Eva Hesse, Jenny Holzer, Clay Ketter, Gunilla Klingberg, Ivan Kliun, Gustav Klutsis, Katarzyna Kobro, Běla Kolářová, Judith Lauand, Fernand Léger, Klara Lidén, El Lissitzky, Liu Wei, Josiah McElheny, Tomás Maldonado, Kazimir Malevich, Werner Mantz, Dóra Maurer, Cildo Meireles, Nasreen Mohamedi, László Moholy-Nagy, Andrei Monastyrski and Collective Actions, Piet Mondrian, Sarah Morris, Hélio Oiticica, Gabriel Orozco, Blinky Palermo, Karthik Pandian, Lygia Pape, Anna Parkina, Adam Pendleton, Amalia Pica, Lyubov Popova, Dmitri Prigov, R. H. Quaytman, Tobias Rehberger, Lis Rhodes, Àngels Ribé, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Karl Peter Röhl, Willem de Rooij, Francesco Lo Savio, Oskar Schlemmer, Ivan Serpa, Arkady Shaikhet, Hassan Sharif, Melanie Smith, Antonina Sofronova, Hannah Starkey, Jeffrey Steele, Władysław Strzemiński, Nikolai Suetin, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Vladimir Tatlin, Rosemarie Trockel, Sergei Vasin, Kostis Velonis, Zhao Yao, Andrea Zittel, Heimo Zobernig, Facundo de Zuviría.

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015
15 January – 6 April 2015