“Trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world,” he later wrote, “I took refuge in the form of the square.” Malevich painted many squares of different colours, but “Black Square” is the one people remember. Unveiled against the backdrop of the first world war and turmoil in Russia, Malevich’s “Black Square” marked a turningpoint in modern art.
Malevich was a huge influence on his successors, especially the American abstract expressionists, but time has not been kind to “Black Square”, at least not physically. These days it is shrunken, cracked and slightly miscoloured. All the same, the challenge that it represented to artists is as powerful as ever.
It was exactly a century after “Black Square”, in 2015, that Mr Kapoor secured the rights to make art using Vantablack, the blackest black ever created. It is not a paint so much as a dense coating of tiny “nanotubes”—“ Vanta” stands for “vertically aligned nanotube array”—which, instead of reflecting light, traps it almost completely. (It was developed as a material that might be useful in hiding satellites.) In a recent display in his studio, Mr Kapoor’s artworks seemed to have no shape or contours. A circle of Vantablack on the floor could be a rug-like coating or a bottomless hole; a bowl shape could be convex or concave. There was no way of telling.
During the Renaissance, artists saw that paint could be used to portray objects in three dimensions. Vantablack seems to remove the object altogether. Speaking to Artforum, a magazine, Mr Kapoor once said: “Imagine walking into a room where you literally have no sense of the walls—where the walls are or that there are any walls at all. It’s not an empty dark room, but a space full of darkness.” For the viewer, as for the artist, these works are another step in the quest for the meaning of black.