Nearly 150 years after the birth of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), one of the greatest pioneers of abstract art, CentroCentro
in Madrid celebrates his artistic and spiritual journey with an exhibition spanning four decades of artistic evolution from early figurative works to exuberant experiments in abstraction and color.
Produced and organized by CentroCentro in Madrid, the Centre Pompidou of Paris, and the Arthemisia Group, the exhibition is curated by the art historian Angela Lampe, curator at the Musée national dart moderne Centre Pompidou, as a major monographic retrospective featuring around 100 paintings, drawings and photographs drawn from the rich collections of the Centre Pompidou. Almost all of these stunning works were part of the artists personal collection and were given by the artists widow, Nina.
Deeply impressed both by Monets Haystacks series at the Moscow Impressionist exhibition of 1896 and the staging by Wagners opera Lohengrin, Kandinsky abandoned a university career in law and economy to become, at the age of thirty, a painter in Germany. In addition to undertaking the classic course of studies under the guidance of masters such as Anton Azbé and Franz von Stuck in Munich, he travelled around Europe (even until Tunis in 1904/05) and stayed at Sčvres near Paris from 1906 to 1907 (Park of Saint-Cloud, 1906). He developed an artistic vision encompassing numerous fields, including painting and music, in which he pursued and championed what he defined as the spiritual in art in the essay of that name, written between 1904 and 1911 to encapsulate his ideas.
The sections of the exhibition retrace the key periods in Kandinskys life, from the early years in Germany to those in Russia, the return at the Bauhaus in Weimar and then the last years in France, through a host of crucial works such as Old Town (1902), Chanson (1906), Improvisation III (1909), In Grey (1919), Yellow-Red-Blue (1925) and Sky Blue (1940).
The exhibition develops in chronological order in four sections over eight rooms.
Kandinsky moved from Russia to Munich to study painting in 1896, when the city was abandoning Symbolism to become a European capital of the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau, a movement pursuing the path of art through decorative projects.
Kandinsky began with small, late-Impressionist landscapes like Schwabing (1901) and works of glowing colour in tempera inspired by ancient Germanic legends and the archaic life of the Russian Empire, as in his Old Russia (1903-04).
It was, however, as from 1908, during summer stays at Murnau, where he rented a house with his German lover Gabriele Münter, that he created the first works using bright, anti-naturalistic colours to translate reality into flat, two-dimensional images inspired by Fauvism. Landscape thus became a pretext for exercises on form and investigations into the power of colour leading to the initial process of abstraction, as in Improvisation III (1909).
It was in Munich that Kandinsky wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art, a lucid theoretical analysis of his pictorial experimentation, from the relationship between form and colour to that between colour and sound, which he saw as crucial and the cornerstone of abstraction.
The definitive turning point came in 1911, when he and Franz Marc embarked on the cultural adventure of the Blaue Reiter movement and held two shows in the period 1911-12.
May 1912 saw the publication of the celebrated Blaue Reiter Almanach, featuring reproductions, articles and information about exclusively artistic matters of an innovative and contemporary character. The publication included essays by Kandinsky, August Macke, Franz Marc and the musician and painter Arnold Schönberg as well as reproductions of artworks of all ages, origins and genres sharing the common characteristic of marked spiritual content.
It was in this period that Kandinsky created his first works wholly detached from reality, transposing his inner world into abstract images.
Back in Russia, 1914-21
When World War I broke out, Kandinsky was forced to return to Moscow and left nearly all his works with his. He worked exclusively on paper in 1915 (Untitled, 1915) and only resumed painting in 1916. After marrying the much younger Nina Andreyevskaya and returning briefly to figuration, he was caught up in the aftermath of the October Revolution and occupied key roles in the new cultural institutions until 1920. While he painted little due to his official commitments, he now espoused abstract art definitively (as in the crucial work In Grey, 1919). Having come under attack from the younger and more radical constructivist avant-garde for his spiritual expressionism, he decided to return to Germany in the end of 1921.
The Bauhaus years, 1921-33
Kandinsky, who gained recognition for his written work, was invited by Walter Gropius to teach at the prestigious school of architecture and art known as the Bauhaus. He took charge of the wall-painting course in 1922 and produced with his students in the same year a commission of the Berlin Juryfreie Kunstausstellung: huge decoration panels for the entrance hall of an fictif art museum. 1922 also saw the Small Worlds portfolio of prints, a synthesis of his pre-war Expressionist works, the new and more geometric style of the Russian period and the new developments of the Bauhaus (Black Grid, 1922). The years at the Bauhaus saw close friendship with Paul Klee and the publication of Kandinskys other major theoretical work Point and Line to Plane (1926). The titles of his paintings - Yellow-Red-Blue, Orange (1923), On White II (1923), Yellow-Red-Blue (1925) - highlight the relationship between colours and geometric shapes. The first organic forms made their appearance in 1930. The closure of the Bauhaus in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi regime forced him to move again, this time to Paris.
Kandinsky arrived in Paris in 1933. While indisputably the capital of the art market, the city was also devoted to its own artists (Picasso and the Surrealists above all) and had little interest in the pure abstraction of a Russian artist with German citizenship. Kandinsky moved into an appartment at Neuilly-sur-Seine, close to the Bois de Boulogne, looking onto the Seine. Enchanted by the limpid, crystalline light, he lightened his palette. At the same time, not least through the influence of his Surrealist friends Jean Arp and Joan Miró, his paintings and works on paper saw a proliferation of biomorphic forms, amoebae, creatures of the depths, embryos and insects (Composition IX, 1936, Colourful Ensemble, 1938; Sky Blue, 1940; An Intimate Celebration, 1942). Kandinsky plunged into this microcosm also in order to escape from the anguish of war. He died on 13 December 1944 without seeing the end of the fighting.