"Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus, 1910-1925"

By Yezzi, David | New Criterion, February 2014 | Go to article overview

"Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus, 1910-1925"


Yezzi, David, New Criterion


"Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus, 1910-1925"

Neue Galerie, New York, NY.

October 3, 2013-February 10, 2014

Vasily Kandinsky's sunny abstract painting Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II) came to New York 100 years ago, as part of the Armory Show of 1913. It was the first time Americans had seen a Kandinsky, and it piqued the interest of the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who bought it for $500. Kandinsky's work also caught the eye of the collector Arthur Jerome Eddy, who subsequently purchased a wide selection of the artist's work. It was Eddy who then persuaded his friend Edwin R. Campbell to commission four panels by Kandinsky for the entrance hall to his new apartment at 635 Park Avenue.

Despite Stieglitz's apprehensions about the "stupidity" of American viewers, the United States has done well by Kandinsky. In fact, American collectors of the Russian-born artist are a focus of both the current show and an essay by Vivian Endocott Barnett in the accompanying catalogue, "Kandinsky Collectors in America, 1913-1930." This comes as no surprise, since a more recent American collector, whose Composition V forms a commanding centerpiece of the show, is the president of the Neue Galerie himself, Ronald Lauder.

Lauder chose well; his Composition V (1913), with its somber plums, grays, and browns, walled around by a looping band of black, occupies a crucial moment in Kandinsky's mm toward abstraction. The picture's hidden iconography was inspired by the Biblical story of the Last Judgment. An orchestral elaboration of abstract rhythms, it encodes at its edges horns and onion-domed towers. The same towers occupy the center of Picture with Archer (1909), which typifies the imagery of the Blaue Reiter circle in Munich, with its leaping horse and color-soaked brushy trees. Other fine examples by Kandinsky's colleagues--Franz Marc, Marianne yon Werefkin, August Macke, and Paul Klee--reveal their shared lyrical sense of landscape and symbol. In the years leading up to 1913, Kandinsky explored the language of nonobjective form and rhythmic color in Composition IV through VII. Much is made in the exhibition catalogue of Kandinsky's affinity for music ("Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings"), but, though it is alluded to, more might be made of the theosophical underpinnings of Kandinsky's art. …

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