Kandinsky fan or not, it is hard not to be impressed by the retrospective of his work at the Pompidou Centre. The exhibition is organised by the three institutions with the largest Kandinsky collections in the world: the Städitische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich (where the exhibition has already been on show), the Pompidou Centre and the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York.
Hung chronologically, the exhibition gives us the different phases of Kandinsky’s work and his journey towards abstraction (also covered, on a smaller scale, by Tate in 2006).
His early figurative work attests to his Russian roots and has more in common with his Russian contemporaries than the European avantgardes at the turn of the century. Riding Couple and Chanson de la Volga are influenced by fantasies portrayed in decorative arts, such as the Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations and decors, and lubok (Russian folk art), a genre defended by Kandinsky in a treatise published later in Der Blaue Reiter.
Wassily Kandinsky, Chanson de la Volga, 1906, Courtesy of the Pompidou Centre
Ivan Bilibin, Red Horseman from Vasilisa the Beautiful, 1899
The main event of the exhibition is the central room, showing paintings from 1911 – 1914. There is no blurb in this part of the show, just pure Kandinsky. The colours are brilliant and the forms and compositions seem to be a completely honest expression of painterly experimentation- they don’t represent anything other than a pure sensory experience. A couple of compositions claw their way back into the figurative (Landscape with Rain). When compared with some of the his earlier landscapes, for example Landscape near Murnau with a Locomotive, which already has the germ of abstraction, we get an idea of how Kandinsky got where he did.
Wassily Knadinsky, Landscape near Murnau with a Locomotive, 1909, courtesy of Guggenheim New York
Wassily Kandinsky, Landscape with Rain, 1913
The exhibition also includes books, manuscripts and works on paper from the Pompidou Centre’s Kandinsky archive and a “portfolio” of works offered to Kandinsky by his students at the Bauhaus on his 60th birthday.
It is poignant to learn how the work of such a pivotal figure in modern art was sidelined and censored at the end of his career. After the closure of the Bauhaus in 1933, the German authorities were no longer interested in Kandinsky’s work (this is when a lot of it was bought up by Solomon Guggenheim) while back in his native Russia the authorities were putting his paintings in storage in line with Stalin’s aesthetic policies. Kandinsky, forced into a nomadic existence throughout his career, ended his days in Paris in 1944.
Kandinsky is on at the Pompidou Centre until 10/08/09