An in-depth exploration of abstract art over the last 100 years to today. The discussion unpacks the four themes of the exhibition Adventures of the Black Square – Utopia, Architectonics, Communication, and the Everyday – to see how abstract art has been used to envisage change in societies globally. Charting a chronological path through abstraction, two days of presentations and conversations explore the concept’s beginnings in the work of Kazimir Malevich, its global dissemination through the technologies of photography and graphic design, its political implications and its unravelling across multiple geographies.
The first day serves to give an art historical introduction, discussing abstraction and its ideals, from 1915 through the post-war period. Speakers include: Stephen Bann, Senior Research Fellow, History of Art Department, Bristol University; Tanya Barson, Curator, Tate; Briony Fer, Professor of Art History; artist Tam Giles; Sarah James, History of Art department, University College London; Tom McDonough, Professor in Art History, Binghamton University, New York; Rick Poynor, Visiting Professor, School of Humanities, Royal College of Art; lecturer, artist and curator Lucy Reynolds; artist Lis Rhodes and artist Hassan Sharif.
The second day considers the evolution of abstraction after Modernism, exploring its relationship to performance, its shifting politics and the ways in which contemporary society can be understood as increasingly abstracted. Speakers include: artist Doug Ashford; Tanya Barson, Curator, Tate; artist David Batchelor; Adrienne Edwards, Associate Curator, Performa; Briony Fer, Professor of Art History, University College London; artist Peter Halley; Maria Lind, Director of Tensta Konsthall; Jiang Jiehong, Director of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts, Birmingham City University; and artist Melanie Smith.
Organised in collaboration with Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art at UCL.
Friday 13 March
The first half of day one provides an art historical context for the concept of abstraction – exploring its roots in Malevich and its early movement across Europe and Latin America in the post-War period. The second half considers how the technologies of abstraction, such as photography and graphic design, played an integral role in disseminating its theories and ideals across continents.
11.30am Introduction by Iwona Blazwick
11.50am Briony Fer, Professor of Art History, University College London
‘Malevich’s colour semaphore’
12.10pm Tanya Barson, Curator, International Art, Tate
12.30pm Tom McDonough, Professor in Art History, Binghamton University, New York
‘Architecture and Abstraction: Glass as a Social Medium’
12.50pm Panel discussion led by Iwona Blazwick
2pm Lunch Break
3pm In conversation with artists Tam Giles and Hassan Sharif
3.45pm Screening and in conversation with Lis Rhodes, artist and Lucy Reynolds.
4.45pm Sarah James, Lecturer in Art History, University College London
‘The Abstract Face of Photography: Rodchenko, Moholy-Nagy and their Legacies’
5.05pm Rick Poynor, Visiting Professor, School of Humanities, Royal College of Art
‘Disseminating Abstraction: The Role of the Magazine’
5.20pm Stephen Bann, Senior Research Fellow, History of Art Department, Bristol University
Saturday 14 March
The first half of day two explores how abstraction relates to performance, from the physicality of the individual body to the political spectacle of mass choreography. The afternoon goes on to address how the concept of abstraction has dissolved into everyday life.
11.30am Introduction by Briony Fer, Professor of Art History, University College London
11.50am Jiang Jiehong, Professor of Chinese Art, Birmingham City University
‘Conformed Bodies: performing geometric’ abstractions in China’. Followed by a Q&A.
12.10pm Adrienne Edwards, Curator, Performa, New York
12.30pm Artist Melanie Smith discusses the work Aztec Stadium. Malleable Deed (2010), a collaboration with Rafael Ortega.
12.50pm Panel discussion with Adrienne Edwards and Melanie Smith, chaired by Tanya Barson, Curator, International Art, Tate
3pm Artist Peter Halley
‘Abstraction – Intertwining Questions’. Followed by Q&A
3.30pm Maria Lind, Director of Tensta Konsthall
‘Abstract Possible: A Testing Ground’
4.20pm Panel discussion chaired by Briony Fer, Professor of Art History, University College London, with artists Doug Ashford and David Batchelor, and Maria Lind.