From London daily The Morning Star:
(Tuesday 04 July 2006)
Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction
Tate Modern, London SE1
EXHIBITION: CHRISTINE LINDEY reveals that Kandinsky was a curious traditionalist who pushed the boundaries of modern art.
Abstraction is now just one of many ways in which an artist might work.
Most artists and their publics were baffled and realism versus abstraction was fiercely debated in the first half of the 20th century and beyond, especially among the left, where it was often accused of taking a socially irresponsible “art for art’s sake” stance.
The problems were huge. How to invent forms which don’t remind us of the visible world? How can these forms go beyond decoration to carry meaning?
How can the viewer know what these meanings are?
By concentrating on Wassily Kandinsky’s struggle to resolve these, this exhibition invites you to puzzle out the residue of motifs from the early representational works in the later abstract ones.
Is that a rainbow, jagged mountain tops, the arched backs of horse and rider? …
The wider social and political contexts of the two decades spanned by the exhibition are also virtually ignored, except to hint at the darkness of the Bolshevik revolution, which is seen only from the point of view of their effects on him as an individual.
The first world war is barely mentioned. The civil war not at all.
We are only invited to sympathise that his inherited private wealth was confiscated during the revolution.
That the Marxist constructivists disagreed with Kandinsky’s aesthetic is not surprising.
Although undoubtedly a major formal innovator, he had never relinquished the reactionary political outlooks of his bourgeois youth.
As a law and economics student in 1880s Moscow, he had adopted the anti-Marxist views of his teachers Bulgakov and Berdyaev, who preached an anti-materialism based on a pseudo-spiritual quest for the Russian soul through a sentimental veneration for the authenticity of serf society.
In 1907, he discovered theosophy and his artistic credo, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, is full of mumbo-jumbo about humanity consisting of a triangle, with most of us as an ignorant, unenlightened majority at its wide base with the artist at its pinnacle, being its sole hope of spiritual salvation. …
Yet, as a 20th century modernist, he was desperate to evade the previous century.
Are the paintings so busy because the work ethic compels him to compensate for their lack of skill?
Are these the screams of a theory-bound lawyer envious of Bohemian spontaneity?
Perhaps it is because they convey these tensions that his works have now become so well-liked and so frequently reproduced.
Exhibition runs until October 1.