As every alchemist will tell you, the hare is an old symbol of natural change or resurrection. Whether we take it for that is another matter. In Christianity, the Easter rabbit is associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the ultimate transformation story. Joseph Beuys would have known the potency of such symbols when he transformed a jewel-encrusted replica of the crown of Ivan the Terrible into a sculpture of a hare as a sign of peace for documenta VII, Kassel, in 1982.
After a work of art is made it inevitably becomes something else – by virtue of its context, its viewer, its interpretation, the passing of time. When Malevich painted Black Square on a White Ground in 1914–15 he had his own initial ideas about it: ‘Were humanity to draw an image of the Divinity after its own image, perhaps the black square is the image of God as the essence of his perfection on a new path for today’s fresh beginning.’ However, the Russian avant-garde would often be aligned with revolutionary politics, and Malevich’s square has become an icon of hard-edged early modernist abstraction.
In this issue, Gabriel Ramin Schor places Malevich’s painting in another context within his essay on blackness. Elsewhere, the idea of transformation appears in different forms. As Esther Leslie writes, it was Kandinsky’s explorations of colour (which he called ‘vibrations of the soul’) that partly influenced Oskar Fischinger in his films and paintings – including his animation for Disney’s Fantasia. Howard Hodgkin says he has ‘never painted an abstract painting in my life’, but his works can suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, Pierre Huyghe likes to play with a sense of transformation, disrupting notions of ownership and identity - both as the artist, and within the subjects he chooses. In The Third Memory, Huyghe asked John Wojtowicz – the man responsible for a well-publicised hostage-taking in Brooklyn in 1972 and played by Al Pacino in Lumet’s film Dog Day Afternoon – to re-enact an episode in his own life. Huyghe questions what is fact and what is fiction, but he never makes concrete the meaning of his work.
But, like you, we live in fluid times, do we not Henry?
With best regards
Bice Curiger and Simon Grant
In this issue
Gabriel Ramin Schor surveys the dark passages of black’s meaning and how artists have used it in their work.
Wassily Kandinsky’s ground-breaking theoretical publication Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), with its emphasis on colours as “vibrations of the soul”, is acknowledged as one of the most influential art texts of the first decades of the twentieth century. Thanks to the relationship between the artist and Michael Sadler and his son Michael Sadleir, Kandinsky’s theories became known to British artists before Sadleir published his translation in 1914.
Oskar Fischinger’s animated films that were partly influenced by the poetic abstraction of Kandinsky’s paintings were among the first to mix high art and mass culture.
When David Brewster invented the kaleidoscope in 1816 he created geometric imagery with light. The geometric art that followed played on the idea of the symmetrical. However, more recently some artists prefer to disorientate the viewer with their abstraction.
John Banville writes a personal appreciation of Rothko after a visit to Tate Modern’s Rothko Room.
English visual art contains a wealth of bondage imagery, particularly from Aubrey Beardsley, the master of the whiplash line. James Hall, explores this and Elizabethan fascinations.
Carl Andre’s uncle reveals how a trip to the English countryside to visit his relatives in the 1950s inspired Carl Andre’s lifelong interest in man-made forms in the landscape.
As Tate Modern completes its first comprehensive rehang, we bring together three art professionals with an insider’s view of the museum world.
Two drawings by the underrated artist Leonora Carrington, purchased by Tate, go on display at Tate Modern for the first time.
The French art critic Nicholas Bourriaud examines the ways in which Pierre Huyghe enjoys upsetting traditional expectations of how art is perceived, mixing fact and fiction.
Artist Aleksandra Mir reflects on her experience of working with Pierre Huyghe
Poet Lavinia Greenlaw pens a poem on Constable inspired by a visit to the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, Kent.
Steven Sherrill pens a fictional account of a studio visit to the English painter John Constable
Marcel Duchamp spent a few weeks of 1913 in Herne Bay in north Kent. Jeremy Millar gives an insight into his fictional film about the visit.
Pipilotti Rist encounters the work of Barbara Kruger
More than 60 years before the current presence of British troops in Iraq, the artist James Boswell (1906–1971) was posted to the country during the Second World War. As a member of the Communist Party and co-founder of the left-wing Artists International Association, he was already known for his satirical anti-establishment drawings. However, he was profoundly affected by his desert experience, which he recorded in words and drawings in his sketchbooks – seen here together for the first time.
Contemporary reflections on a work in the Tate collection
In his third visit to the Tate archive, Lawrence Norfolk explores a movement that used post as its medium.
He grew up in a home full of Omega Workshop objects, before being evacuated to New York during the Second World War where he was introduced to the Museum of Modern Art. Ever since then, for the artist who represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984, and was an early recipient of the Turner Prize in 1985, memory has played an important part in how he articulates his world.