Pioneer of abstract art and eminent aesthetic theorist, Vasily Kandinsky (b. 1866, Moscow; d. 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) broke new ground in painting in the first decades of the twentieth century. His seminal pre–World War I treatise Über das Geistige in der Kunst (On the Spiritual in Art), published in Munich in December 1911, lays out his program for developing an art independent of one’s observations of the external world. In this and other texts, as well as his art, Kandinsky strove to use abstraction to give painting the freedom from nature that he admired in music. His discovery of a new subject matter based solely on the artist’s “inner necessity” occupied him throughout his life. In Newsweek, Peter Plagens has put together a slideshow of artists who share Kandinsky’s “aesthetic DNA.” The list includes A-listers like Arshile Gorky, Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Terry Winters, Elizabeth Murray, and Thomas Nozkowski, but also includes less well-known painters Heidi Pollard, Mark Mullin, and, well, Peter Plagens himself. Of course, the list could go on and on. A shorter list might include abstract painters who don’t share Kandinsky’s aesthetic DNA.
In the NY Times this week, Roberta Smith reports that the Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim looks sensational. “The purity of the present show limits Kandinsky’s immensity a bit. It simplifies a vision that held music, painting and language as part of a continuum and relegates his activities as theoretician, essayist, poet and (arts) community organizer to the show’s informative, discreetly placed wall texts. In both of his best-known books — Concerning the Spiritual in Art(1912) and Point and Line to Plane (1926) — he displays a remarkable ability to reconcile the redemptive power of art’s ‘inner pulsations,’ meant to be experienced ‘with all one’s senses’ and exacting diagrams of the formal effect of different colors, shapes and lines, each of which he felt had a distinct sound. There are formalist possibilities in these pages that Clement Greenberg never imagined….Kandinsky, the most well-rounded and compleat of Modernist prophets, always had more ideas than he knew what to do with. At the end of his hectic, productive life, he finally began to lay them out one at a time. This marvelous show starts settling the dust.”
“Kandinsky,” curated by Tracey Bashkoff, Christian Derouet, Annegret Hoberg. The Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. Through January 13.
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