— Wassily Kandinsky
Powerful. Poignant. An outpouring of the spirit. There are so many phrases and so many adjectives to describe the artistic oeuvre of Wassily Kandinsky, from his first Compositions and Improvisations to his more geometrically rendered shapes of his final years in Paris. His colors literally dance on and off the canvas, always communicating some sort of message to the masses. If you aren’t careful, these colors can absorb you and tingle your insides, until you feel an explosion of energy coming from within. This, however, can only be the beginning of something incredible that does more than satisfy one’s artistic taste buds. Perhaps I am a bit bias, because I consider Kandinsky to be one of my “art heros”… but in my opinion, any kind of art that grabs you and has the ability to move you in unimaginable ways can be denoted as “great art”. Capito?
Exactly 60 years ago, in January of 1947, Milan’s Palazzo Reale held an exhibition of great European modern artists, the first major show since the end of the second World War. Kandinsky was one of the artists represented; the other artists represented were mostly Italian: Bassi, Bonini, Licini, Mazzon, Munari, Rho, Ettore Sottsass and Veronesi. Up until 24 June 2007, curator Luciano Caramel has made it possible for art critics and fans alike to stand in the presence of Kandinsky’s work, as well as the work of other Italian modern artists whom he influenced from 1930-1950. This show is entitled Kandinsky e l’astrattismo in Italia. Here, for the first time in Italy, viewers can see over 42 works by the Russian Expressionist master, including watercolors, oil on canvas and pastel.
The show was arranged [as expected] in a chronological order, starting with Kandinsky’s early work (ie. Improvisations) and moving to the Bauhaus years, his collaboration with Paul Klee and his final years of painting in Paris. Text panels were available to the visitors in both English and Italian, giving a detailed and historical/cultural information about each period in Kandinsky’s art career. The walls were painted in a slate grey-ish color, with bright flourescent lights shining down on the main *highlights* of the show — which allowed viewers to really see every single detail painted. Quotes from Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art filled the walls, giving visitors permission to stop and muse about his art on a deeper level. Besides historical facts, color was also another theme that was highly emphasized. Several rooms held the works in specific color schemes, such as “black-grey”, “red-orange-yellow” and “blue-violet”. These quotes were rendered on color circle panels, presenting a more theoretical approach to the usual chronology of events and famous works. I felt that this methodology could have been taken further, maybe dedicating the whole exhibition to what Kandinsky had to say about color theory. The traffic flow throughout the exhibition was all right, and I didn’t get the audio guide because I don’t like people telling me how to think and look at a piece of artwork.
The most brilliant set-up, however, can be found in the first gallery. There, Kandinsky’s famous Composition VII (see picture above) is hung in a niche in the wall, as if it was floating, with a soft irredescent blue light along the borders and shining through the background. I wish I had my camera, so that I could have taken an illegal picture of it. In this case, the museum was indeed a muse — sucking me into a state of deep reverence right in front of this very painting! To be honest, this was my favorite part of the show, and bearing previous knowledge of the heavy spiritual aspects behind Kandinsky’s early work stabbed me in the chest and nearly drove me to the point of tears. Art can be powerful like that sometimes.
The rest of the show was not rendered quite as well. Although it was interesting to see the influence Kandinsky had on these “contemporaries”, it was also a huge bombardment of images and wall text, which I must criticize, throw my hands up in frustration and ask what the need is to know every single detail about the artists’ life/career and paste both Italian and English text panels side-by-side… overcrowding the already lack of wall space… and blocking the flow of traffic. To be honest, I zipped through this portion of the show and found it to be rather cold compared to the warm, embracing liveliness of dancing colors and shapes on Kandinsky’s canvases.
Other notable highlights of the Kandinsky portion?
*Zigzag Blanc, 1922
*Movimento I, 1935
Considered by many to be the Father of Modern Expressionism, Kandinsky carries out his expression of the SOUL throughout his artistic career and even into the modern day. The revolution he started brought about lots of criticism from his peers and those in authority, but in the end paved the way for greater things to come. This is why even 60 years after Kandinsky graced Europe with his presence at the January 1947 exhibition, people are still talking about the legacy he left and those who have come to love his art the way it ought to be loved feel the need to carry this principle deeper into the 21st Century.
Viewing this show instilled a huge breath of fresh air to my nearly stagnant artistic exsistence, and forced me to think on a deeper level about how to successfully intertwine the beauty of art theory and exhibition installation once again. Heck, I even bought the catalogue.