Magazine article Insight on the News

Abstraction Is Splashy, If Solipsistic

Magazine article Insight on the News

Abstraction Is Splashy, If Solipsistic

Article excerpt

Nothing in the 20th century has confounded the public more than abstraction. Nor has any movement proved so enduring and yet so malleable in the hands of artists from Wassily Kandinsky to Frank Stella.

Now New York's Guggenheim Museum, long a champion of nonrepresentational art, has undertaken the daunting chore of assembling the first retrospective of abstract art in its many forms. "Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline," comprises 136 works by 49 artists from Europe and the United States. While the show undoubtedly will meet with criticism for omitting some prominent artists, it manages to make abstraction accessible to those not well-grounded in the tradition's evolution and oft-changing goals. What the exhibit fails to illuminate are the roots of abstraction -- Impressionism and Cubism, for example -- making it less an educational experience than a celebration, and an enjoyable one at that.

If there is a "father" of abstraction, it is Kandinsky, whose paintings in the second decade of this century were among the first to break free from the constraints of representation. The show opens with a collection of the Russian painter's work hung beside those of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, artists united by their belief in the transcendental capacity of art. Working concurrently yet independently, the three pursued their own forms of abstraction.

Malevich, for example, often worked with red or black squares and rectangles on a field of white -- a visualization, he once said, of "a state of feeling." Mondrian, whose recent traveling retrospective attracted huge crowds, broke even more completely with representation by painting on a rectilinear grid, reducing elements to their "purest" state of geometric order -- a metaphor, ultimately, for universal harmony. The Russian Constructivists, represented in the Guggenheim show by Vladimir Tatlin's dizzying architectural model Monument to the Third International, also used hard-edged geometric shapes, but their goals were social rather than spiritual -- attempting to salvage some order for a society ravaged by the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the West, the Bauhaus school promoted an abstract geometric idiom as an expression of modernity and mass production.

In the twenties and thirties, Dadaists tossed all this rationality aside, utilizing abstraction to their own ends, emphasizing the unconscious and attacking the modern psyche. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.