Dóra Maurer Seven Rotations 1 – 6, 1979, collection of Zsolt Somlói and Katalin Spengler © Dóra Maurer
Don’t be fooled by the title of the new Whitechapel exhibition. I was initially surprised that ‘Adventures of the Black Square’ would follow Tate’s Malevich 2014 show so closely – shouldn’t these curators have more imagination! But in fact, the Whitechapel Gallery takes the founding figure of abstract art’s Black Square as a departure point and from there we go on a journey within abstract art and society since 1915. The Whitechapel exhibition covers several geographies, mediums and disciplines.
The exhibition starts with Constructivism and surveys the links between Suprematism (the self-proclaimed abstract art that Malevich developed from 1913), Constructivism and Dadaism, as well as, to me, leaving open question the relationship between Communism and Constructivism. Were Constructivism’s simple lines and shapes in the spirit of Communism? I can see how Constructivist utilitarian design and production in architecture and design could fit that ideal. Constructivists no longer saw an autonomous function for art and but wanted to create a visual environment relevant to the new Socialist society (source: MoMA).
Away from the political viewpoint, the Whitechapel exhibition reminded me how much I like Constructivist photography: its angled perspectives, close ups and graphic geometry. Constructivist photographs, which I first came across at the exhibition of Aleksandr Rodchenko at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2007, turned figurative motifs into abstract compositions.
I realised that there are many schools of abstract art – have you heard of Proun for instance? Proun, an acronym of the Russian phrase meaning “project for the affirmation of the new”, was pioneered by El Lissitzky, drawing from his training as an architect. Concrete art, introduced by artist Theo van Doesburg, later flourished in Brazil; as abstract art based on mathematic principles, it fits in alongside works from Lygia Clark, one of many women featured. We can also foresee the start of kinetic art in Latin America. Don’t miss it, this one is a must for your art history! Until 6 April 2015.