Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kandinsky in Milwauky: 2 Exhibitions

By Tyler Friedman
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Quiet you gaudy man!

Slowly slides the old house from the hill. The old blue sky

is stuck hopelessly between branches and leaves.

Don't call me there!

A striking number of nations have declared a national animal, a national bird, a national flower (a.k.a. "floral emblem"), a national fruit, a national dance, a national tree, a national sport, a national color, even a national personification (e.g. "Uncle Sam," "John Bull" for the British, "Marianne" for the French, "der Deutscher Michael" for the Germans). But, so far as I know, there is no such thing as an official national art form.

Our intuitive associations insist otherwise. The national spirit of the Greeks received immortal expression in the form of ancient tragic drama. One thousand six hundred and sixty-three Canadians want the documentary to be officially decreed the national art form of Canada. Jazz, these Canadian claim (and I concur), is the de facto art form of America. If our intuitions are to believed, Mother Russia speaks through the novel. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin... that's the extent of most foreigners' knowledge of the Russian language.

But the Russkies have much to offer in the way of visual arts as well. Indeed, if 'Wassily Kandinsky' is an unfamiliar name, two exhibitions will soon emend that lamentable fact.

The basics: Born in Moscow, 1866. An early and essential explorer who led representational art's intrepid excursions into non-representationality. A brilliant art theorist whose texts (Concerning the Spiritual In Art, Point and Line To Plane, Klänge) are still read by scholars, philosophers, and undergraduates taking Art History 101. A founding member of the influential art group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Died in France, 1944.

David Barnett Gallery will be presenting the woodcuts that accompanied Kandinsky's poems (or is it vice versa?) in his 1913 book Klänge (Sounds). These works show Kandinsky on the way to becoming the mature abstractionist of his late period. The bold and sparing lines congenial to the woodcut technique echo, in retrospect, the bold and sparing lines of his paintings of the time where he begins to abandon representation in order to serve other masters. The exhibition is on display until July 19.

From June 5 until September 1, the Milwaukee Art Museum hosts "Kandinsky: A Retrospective," showcases works from the Centre Pompidou in Paris as well as MAM's own collection of works from der Blaue Reiter.

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