Saturday, 14 February 2015

Defying the black square

It was more a feeling of duty than any expectation of hedonistic delight that led me to the Whitechapel Gallery for its acclaimed exhibition Adventures of the Black Square -- succinctly described by Time Out as "a hip guide to abstract art". I did not expect to find gorgeous colour or tactile textiles, but they were there in glorious abundance; illustrating how such traditionally derided genres have managed to slip under the radar of the Fine Art Police to find a home among the most minimalist of modernists.

Don't panic, it's just a black square. 

As if to declare that we should not take the hardline minimalists too seriously, the Kazimir Malevich painting of 1915 that provided the starting point for the whole exhibition proved to be a pushover, not much more than postcard-sized and the anticipated formidably stark black and white looking distinctly grubby. And not even a square at that, but a "quadrilateral".  Pah!

Separated by just a few feet and only three years, was a colourful geometric composition, Untitled,  of 1918, 
 by a woman, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, in dyed pearl cotton cross-stitch! And from then on it just got better.

Here was a series by Andrea Buttner of 13 minimalist coloured squares on wooden stretchers from 2011, which on closer inspection proved to be fabric, each one representing the workwear of different jobs, from street sweepers to police officers. And over there was an inviting carpeted bench on which sprawled a gallery attendant, so that it was only later that I realised it was an artwork: Bench, 2014, by Andrea Zittel, which "investigates the legacy of minimalist sculptures by Donald Judd, using surface texture to connect formalism with lived reality". In other words, sod painting, I want a nice coloured rug to sit on.

Off at a bit of a textile-related tangent, was Bela Kolarova's marvelous assemblage of black snap fasteners on cardboard from 1964, revealing "the unexpected beauty of the domestic and the utilitarian". Not so unexpected if you're a textile artist, of course.

Here too was a real patchwork quilt - something that usually infuriates me when I find one in a fine art gallery, as it is often a poor relation of what can be seen in any half-way decent amateur quilt show. But this one was superb: simple squares but with an Amish-style conviction in hand-dyed kingfisher, teal and turquoise blues with olive and brown, and rust and black borders.  Having googled the Egyptian-Armenian artist Chant Avedissian, I want to know much more (although his own website is infuriating).

And now ta-dah! the piece that for me was worth the admission price alone: Serape, 2015, by Adrian Esparza, an artwork that excitingly seems to take a different shape in each gallery where it is shown. The Texas-based artist "deconstructs" - I word I usually abhor, so let's use "unravels" - a Mexican blanket to create a colourful geometric pattern of threads fixed to the wall by nails. It was the work nearest the exit, and inevitably I was running short of time, but it made my heart leap. 

Here, as a poor response to this exhibition but wanting to provide some pictures, are my own attempts at quilted minimalism: 

Please go to the exhibition, it is marvellous. 

No comments:

Post a Comment