In the Black Square
1923 by Vasily Kandinsky
Guggenheim Collection, New York; in ‘The Geometry of Kandinsky and Malevich’
The Guggenheim’s exhibition of Kandinsky and Malevich is short but sweet, an exhibition of angles that demonstrates just how different each artist’s geometric approach was. What is most interesting is when we pair this visual difference to each of their thoughts behind the shapes involved; Kandinsky, unlike Malevich, maintained that his geometrics retained their expressive content. This is perhaps easy to see with Malevich’s simple, basic shapes compared to Kandinsky’s explosive and movement filled compositions, which, though very different to his early painterly work (see postcard seventy-two), retain the expression-filled energy that has always fuelled his paintings. Though random, the shapes are harmonic in that they build something, their angles react off each other like springboards; we can almost feel a tension between them that acts as an atmosphere. Colour then intensifies this, bright yellow at the tip of the triangle and in the sun-like circle that centre the painting. Tension between shape and object is also created here, as Kandinsky transforms landscape through his angles. Triangular trees spring in a painterly naturalism from unnatural bright red, the half arch that erupts from them teeters on the edge of being a rainbow, and cloud like shapes are underlined in the sky. These clouds are particularly interesting, appearing on the brink between expressing style and expressing themselves, they becomes intensely about design. The energy of this composition is made all the more poignant with its containment within a square. Kandinsky has taken one of Malevich’s simple shapes in black and white and filled it with coloured shape and line, fuelled not only by geometrics but by imagination.