Whitechapel Gallery | ★★★★☆
In the final, shattering line of Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen writes of “a drawing down of blinds.” This returned to me when standing before Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, painted exactly a century ago when hundreds of thousands of young soldiers were coming up against industrial killing machines for the first time. Sometimes, when faced with unspeakable horror, the most articulate response is silence, and this is what Malevich’s solitary square provides; a kind of potent nothingness. It’s a rare bit of context missed by the curators of Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015, the Whitechapel Gallery’s ambitious new exhibition highlighting the link between society and abstract art.
The exhibition argues that abstract art is in conversation with the world, even if it doesn’t depict it. The 100-odd artists featured in the exhibition range from the expected (Mondrian) to those not normally associated with abstract art at all, such as the photographer Hannah Starkey.
The wide-sweeping approach may not be an ideal way to build a compelling case but it at least provides a fresh perspective on the previous century of art.