IRWIN [Dušan Mandič, Miran Mohar, Andrej Savski, Roman Uranjek, and Borut Vogelnik] (collective founded 1983 in Ljubljana, Slovenia; works in Ljubljana) and Michael Benson (born 1962 in Munich, Germany; lives and works in Brooklyn, USA).
A square of black cloth, 22 meters on each side.
Unfurled in Moscow’s Red Square in ironic homage to Malevich and Suprematism.
“On 6 June 1992 between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., the group IRWIN and Michael Benson performed an artistic action Black Square on Red Square. In collaboration with about fifteen people they brought a large piece of black canvas onto Moscow’s Red Square and unfurled it. The fabric covered a vast 22 x 22 meter square in this symbolic centre of the Russian capital, just east of the Lenin Mausoleum. Moscow militia did not interfere, nor did any of the numerous Federal Security Service officers (or FSB, a successor of KGB) in plain clothes who were on duty there. Passers-by gazed curiously, with a bit of confusion, at this highly unusual activity, but did not appear shocked, perhaps assuming that anything of that scale on Red Square must have been sanctioned by the authorities and must have had a purpose.
“There were no announcements or prepared statements; no person appeared to be central to the event. A somewhat unusual mix of artists, art critics, curators, militia, and FSB officers, as well as tourists and native Muscovites, mingled together around the square and talked casually. Half-an-hour later the participants folded the fabric, took it to the edge of the square where a small bus was waiting, and drove away.
“The people who reenacted Malevich’s iconic painting Black Square in a real space and gave it the name Black Square on Red Square were a group of ex-Yugoslavian and Russian artists, critics, and curators. They were the participants in the month-long series of lectures, discussions, and exhibitions that later came to be known as NSK Embassy Moscow.”
—Gediminas Gasparavičius, “IRWIN and Michael Benson, Black Square on Red Square,” in From Kapital to Capital: Neue Slowenische Kunst: An Event of the Final Decade of Yugoslavia, ed. Zdenka Badovinac (Ljubljana: Moderna Galleriaat, 2015), 19.
“Of all the works produced by Irwin relating to Malevich, Black Square on Red Square (1992) is undoubtedly the largest, and most probably the best known. It forms part of a triptych, the other two being the black cross painted on the roof of the Clocktower Gallery in New York and the dance performed in a circle in a field in Slovenia by the members of NSK with girls dressed in Slovenian national costume.
“In Moscow, we spread out a 22-metre square of black canvas on Red Square in front of the Lenin Mausoleum in such a fashion that, combined with the red of the events the square is named after, it formed a composition, a painting visible from the air. The canvas itself was a drape loaned by the Bolshoi Theatre. It turned out to be heavier than we had anticipated—too heavy for members of [IRWIN] alone to carry from the edge of the square to its designated spot, so numerous friends came to our aid, including many Russian artists. Our Russian friends were certain we would be prevented from carrying out our plan by the police, uniformed or plain-clothed, both kinds numerous on the square at all times, and that we would be arrested. They had good reason for their apprehension. Without a special permit, interventions on Red Square are forbidden, and all who had violated this regulation before us had ended up in police custody. But nobody tried to stop us. When people gathered around the unfurled canvas, a man in (I believe military) uniform even cautioned people not to step on it. After approximately half an hour we folded it up and loaded it back in the van.
“A friend of ours who had observed the event later remarked that she’d felt it possible the police would choose not to act, but that she had hoped the visitors to the square, ordinary people, would have stopped a black square from being unfolded in the middle of Red Square.”
—Borut Vogelnik, “Irwin [sic] on Malevich,” Tate Etc. 31 (2014).