You have probably seen this painting somewhere before.
But there is a good chance that after looking at it you would have many more questions than answers – why is it so popular and expensive? Why so simple? What pushed the author to draw it? Why exactly this one, and not countless other attempts at drawing a full black canvas?
Well, these are the questions that bothered me as well, and after researching the topic, I think I might just have all the answers you need.
To fully understand the meaning of this art piece, let’s start by looking at the artist – Kazimir Malevich. He was an avant-garde artist born and living in Russia. Before painting the now legendary art piece, he tried many different styles, including realism; however, he mainly focused on more simplistic art styles, such as cubism or abstraction.
He participated in his first exhibition in 1911. His paintings were generally well-perceived and he was well-known amongst other painters; nonetheless, he was missing that uniqueness that would separate him from all the other artists.
With The Black Square, Malevich started a revolution, a protest of sorts in the art world. It symbolised everything and nothing at the same time by going against realism, which was usually the most well-perceived genre at the time. It encouraged the viewer to search for the meaning themselves, to see whatever they wanted to see. It was the first painting in Russia and possibly in the world to give such creative freedom to the viewer. Everyone can see something different in it – a revolution, a riot, an icon or just simply a black square.
Malevich would go on to paint almost exclusively in the Suprematism art style, becoming incredibly famous in Russia and later, in the whole world. He would go on to create other famous paintings, such as White on White (which is, you guessed it, a white square on white canvas) and Suprematist Composition. The original of the Black Square is currently located in the Tretyakovskaya gallery and we can only imagine how much it is worth; however, other works by Malevich were auctioned off for up to 60 million USD [https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/arts/06iht-melik5.html].
The Black Square is a prime example of a painting whose meaning stems from the context. The time during which it was painted, the artwork that came before it and the author all create something unique, something meaningful. Context is a very powerful tool in the art world – it gives emotions to paintings, it makes them tell a story. Anyone can draw a black square on a piece of paper, yet very few people can put as much meaning into it as Kazimir Malevich.