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Malevich’s Black Square From a Taoist Perspective

Some love it, some hate it, some don’t get it, but we’re still talking about Malevich’s Black Square over a century after it was first exhibited in 1915 in Petrograd. I recently came across an intriguing new way of looking at this famous work - based in the Chinese traditions.

According to Taoist beliefs, the Square represents Earth in a state of maximum immobility. At the same time, according to the Theory of Five Elements, Black is the colour of water at maximum movement. Thus, consciously or not, in executing a Black Square Malevich combined two diametrically opposed absolutes – maximum movement and maximum immobility – within a single symbol. And that’s genius!

Below are two of several versions of the Black Square, both executed in 1915.  The craquelure, or cracked paint, seen in the images is the result of time and age rather than intention.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    Kasimir Malevich, The Black Square, 1915, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, © Tretyakov Gallery

Kasimir Malevich, The Black Square, 1915, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, © Tretyakov Gallery

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    Kazimir Malevich, The Black Square, 1915, Tate Modern, London, © Tate Modern

Kazimir Malevich, The Black Square, 1915, Tate Modern, London, © Tate Modern