The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow announced today they x-rayed the original Black Square by Malevich and discovered two colour compositions they called proto-suprematist beneath the Square itself plus some text. The compositions seem to be quite suprematist but the research team refers to them as proto-suprematist because suprematism had not yet been invented by Malevich. While some art historians may consider it awkward, it’s a trifling matter. It’s the text that is important, and potentially quite embarrassing.
Two things that you must know about the original Black Square are that it is not a square and it is not made with black pigment. Your eyes are fooling your perceptions that fool your mind that fools your response, and then you say “I could paint a square, couldn’t I?” No, actually you couldn’t, so let’s skip the discussion of whether the Black Square should be getting so much attention. It’s one of the most famous paintings in history, and that’s a fact.
To the text now.
The gallery said they couldn’t yet read the whole of it. First, their X-Ray machine seems to have been confounded by all the layers of different pigments in the Black Square, and second, Malevich had a terrible hand when it came to writing.
They deciphered the first word, and it is “Battle”.
Logic now tells the researchers it is going to turn out as “The Battle of the Negroes in the deep dark cave at night” which is an obvious reference to the eponymous work by Alphonse Allais (1893) who painted a simple black rectangle (indeed it was a perfect rectangle painted with perfect black pigment, and thus failed to become an artistic breakthrough).
So, art lovers, critics, curators, and artists are asking each other a simple question: What do we have now instead of the Great Black Square which Malevich claimed to had painted in a trance under the influence of cosmic forces that were guiding his hand?
Does the new discovery send decades of critical thinking down the drain, and innumerable volumes of art history books in the dust bin? Did Malevich simply paint over something he didn’t want to show? Then he added a joking tagline, and art critics went bananas rushing to explain its deep meaning. Was it all a big fat case of over-interpretation?
Well, perhaps not. I have a theory.
I think, we have a successful attempt to cover a colourful suprematist composition (that Malevich thought of as a failure for some reason) with paint in a way that the colours would not show through the surface when it dries up. You can’t just over-paint red with black and expect the black to stay black, you know. So Malevich had to invent a certain mixture of colours that will dry up as black at the end but without the use of the black paint. It is also possible he intended the colour composition to be painted over, except that why would he say it was some divine intervention?
And, let’s not forget it, he chose NOT to make it a perfect square. After all, he might have had a creative revelation along the way.
Of course, it is just a theory.
The Tretyakov Gallery promises a new book on the Black Square this year, and we will see if Malevich used the N-word or not. But something tells me my theory can be the right one. A lot of great things in human history have been created out of necessity. Perhaps, the Black Square is just one of them.
There’s only one thing that disturbs me. What if some years later some memoirs of a Malevich friend will surface up in which his buddy would casually remark about the drunken state of Kazimir when he was painting the Black Square. That would really kill the imperfect square thing. That would be really embarrassing.
PS Chagall is in the works, but there are some headlines I can’t skip.