This work belongs to a series of eight black paintings Rodchenko made in direct response to a group of white paintings of the same year by the older and more established artist Kazimir Malevich. Malevich relied on a severely reduced palette of whites to suggest a floating form in an infinite spatial expanse; Rodchenko moved toward eliminating color completely in order to focus instead on the material quality of the paintings surface. "Where the black works are winning is in the fact that they have no color, they are strong through painting . . . ," declared artist Varvara Stepanova, Rodchenko's wife. "Nothing besides painting exists." Both series were first shown in Moscow in April 1919, in the 10th State Exhibition: Non-Objective Art and Suprematism. The black works were received with enthusiasm and helped establish Rodchenko as a leader of the Russian avant-garde.
Gallery label from 2015
Rodchenko made the Black on Black series, of which this work is part, in direct response to the White on White paintings that Kazimir Malevich had made earlier in 1918. Both groups were shown at the Tenth State Exhibition of Nonobjective Creation and Suprematism in Moscow the following year. With this gesture Rodchenko took an oedipal swipe at the more established artist and directly challenged the fundamental principles of Suprematism: if for Malevich the white in his paintings connoted the infinite expanse of the ideal, Rodchenko used black, in a variety of textures and finishes, to ground painting in its physical properties, bringing attention to the material quality of its surface. In contrast to the tilting plane of Malevich's White on White painting, the arcing forms of Rochenko's canvas suggest dynamic motion.
Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013