Kazimir malevich on vision and sensation

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In modernism's many attempts to interpret itself and find its origins, Malevich's Black square holds a singular position. An emblematic image, the icon of a new art, according to its author, it has been said to signal a break with Enlightenment technocracy and secular thought, and thus to open ways to the sacred 'paths to the absolute'. But the cracked surface of the Black square, which in fact is no longer black but an indefinite mixture of black, brown, and white, reveals that the square was not the first suprematist image despite Malevich's assertions to the contrary. Further, his replacement of the traditional corner icon with a defective square in '0.10: the last futurist exhibition' signifies perhaps the irrelevance of sanctity. In this picture, then, as I wish to propose, Malevich has reduced the sacred to black paint and to an imperfect square that lies askew against the limits of the now-aged white margins. For the Black square is not the vision of a higher reality but a blind spot where nothing is visible, and Malevich has not inquired into sight, worldly or otherwise, but into the matter of painting. The relocation of the artist on the materialist side of the modern split between matter and spirit entails therefore a reversal of the dominant and subordinate in the suprematist visual sign. Bearing in mind Malevich's latent iconoclasm, I shall still argue for an inversion of values and a shift from word to image - that is, from a reduction of suprematism to a concept and a representation of philosophies to a study of the sensual matter of painting. Inverting the terms in Margaret Iversen's phrase, 'the elevation of thought over sensuous pleasure, of mind over eye, of the literary over the painterly', which sums up Raynold's view of art, I propose that here is an elevation of sensuous pleasure over thought, of eye over mind, and of the painterly over the literary. Such a transfer, moreover, could explain Malevich's return to figuration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalWord and Image
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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