London Wassily Kandinsky exhibition

Kandinsky, Composition

From London daily The Morning Star:

Modern tensions

(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.

But, just before the first world war, when it was pioneered primarily by Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian, it was seen as the final, radical step to liberate art from the ancient yoke of description.

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.

14 thoughts on “London Wassily Kandinsky exhibition

  1. 2007-03-13 10:50

    Kandinsky’s spell on Italian art
    Milan show charts his influence on abstract artists

    MILAN (ANSA) – Wassily Kandinsky’s impact on the development of international abstract art is well-documented but for the first time a new exhibit in Milan charts his influence on Italian artists in depth.

    The show looks at how Kandinsky’s work in the first decade of the 20th century shaped the development of a group of Italian artists in the 1930s and 1940s.

    “The exhibition looks not only at the opinions of artists and critics but also compares the painting of the Russian master with the best Italian abstract artists over two decades, in a far more comprehensive fashion than ever before,” said the exhibit’s curator Luciano Caramel.

    The show is centred on a group of paintings by Kandinsky that first went on display in Milan in 1934, including one of his best-known masterpieces, Composition IV. The painting, normally held by the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, cost exhibit organizers 100,000 euros in insurance and transport, The rest of the exhibition focuses on the work of 52 Italian artists.

    A first section is devoted to early abstract works by Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Licini between 1931 and 1934.

    The show moves on to explore the years 1934-35, featuring work by artists that were exhibiting in the trendsetting Galleria del Milione.

    It then considers the connection between abstract art and Futurism, a link explored by Bruno Munari, Enrico Prampolini and Cesare Andreoni.

    A later section considers the post-war period from the mid-1940s through to the early 1950s, centred on two exhibitions staged in 1947: ‘Abstract and Concrete Art’ in Milan and ‘Classic Abstract Art’ in Florence.

    Speaking at the presentation of the exhibition, art critic and former culture undersecretary Vittorio Sgarbi said the show was a crucial step towards restoring visibility to a little considered period in Italian art.

    “Italian abstract art may be less well-known and celebrated than Futurism, but this exhibit seeks to remedy the situation to some extent,” he said.

    “This is the first major attempt to historically evaluate this particular artistic trend, which developed over a period of 20 years and which was extremely significant and fruitful for Italian art history”.

    The show in Milan’s Palazzo Reale runs until June 24.


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