Foreshadowed: Malevich’s Black Square and its Precursors

An image showing a collage of printed material depicting a black square

Foreshadowed: Malevich’s Black Square and its Precursors

A gold horizontal flourish

   17 September – 6 November 2022 

 Blackwell Hall, Weston Library and Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library

This display has now closed

Kasimir Malevich’s (1979–1935) painting Black Square was revolutionary when it was painted in 1915. It offered absolutely nothing to the viewer and it claimed to bring the history of art to an end. No-one had seen anything like it before. Or had they? Even though the extreme minimalism of the painting had no precedents in the world of art, it did have precedents in other fields.

This display explored the use of the black square from mourning and metaphysics to comedy and politics. Although it is unlikely that Malevich will have been familiar with most of these precedents, they all resonate with different aspects of the painting, throwing light on its complex layers of meaning.

Read the related essay by curator Andrew Spira

Beyond the Pale

 On display in the Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library

These contemporary printed works extended the symbolic reach of the black pages shown in the display Foreshadowed. 

Most of these prints were made in 2022 in response to a call from the Bodleian Libraries Bibliographical Press. They express mourning of personal loss, grief for the environment, anger at political conflict and repression, or playful encouragements to recalibrate our vision of ‘black’.

Several embody references to arts and performance – music, ceramics, drawing, reading, and printing itself. Others, with an inviting tactile surface, tempt the viewer to transgress the square. 


  • Andrew Spira, curator of Foreshadowed
  • Alexandra Franklin, co-curator of Beyond the Pale
  • Lucy Bayley, co-curator of Beyond the Pale