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Something you should see… Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015

Can a geometric shape radically change society? Can it be the premise for a revolution? They may sound like obscure questions but it’s the starting point for the Whitechapel’s latest annual major exhibition. Tracing the inclusion of an abstract form in art from a highly politicized moment in history, this exhibition looks at how art co-opts politics to influence society, and whether this is still a valid quest.

Whitechapel director Iwona Blazwick OBE, and Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large, take on the curatorial task of transforming the Whitechapel into a space devoted to abstract form as it collides with political thought. They begin with Kazimir Malevich’s radical ‘black square’ paintings which first made bold, manifesto-esque claims to the idea of non-representational art as a tool that leads to Utopian life.


Dóra Maurer Seven Rotations 1 – 6, 1979, collection of Zsolt Somlói and Katalin Spengler © Dóra Maurer

The concept of non-representational art took hold beyond the Russian movement when a series of artists including Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay and František Kupka broke away from tradition and made artwork with no recognisable subject matter. The movement evolved over the 20th century and into the 21st century, and its effects are included in the work in the show.

The show wanders through history, separated by four themes: Communication; Architectonics (how abstraction can underpin socially transformative spaces); Utopia and The Everyday, bringing the show right up to date with abstraction in corporate logos and textile design. The rest of the Whitechapel spaces are filled with displays, commissions and special events including work by David Batchelor and Bart Lodewijks. A vital exhibition, don’t miss it! (Words: Laura Thornley)

From 15th January to 6th April. For more info

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