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Wassily Kandinsky. Photograph: Martigny exhibition catalogue.





Wassily Kandinsky
The exhibition in Martigny, Switzerland

No. 5, article added on April 2000

 
Paul Cézanne spent all his life in search of the perfect picture but it was Wassily Kandinsky who, after years of study, created a series of "perfect" pictures in regard to composition, form and colour. His expressionist works of the 1910s and 1920s are the existing proof for that. These works of art are still unsurpassed. Under the influence of the Bauhaus where Kandinsky taught in the 1920s he developed in the direction of cold geometric abstraction. The road of constructivism alienated him from his former organic and emotional forms. The exhibition in Martigny concentrates on Kandinsky and Russia. The weaker works created under the influence of the Bauhaus and afterwords are not shown in Switzerland and will therefore not be analyzed in this article.

After the exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zurich (review article in German:  Chagall, Kandinsky, Malewitsch und der russischen Avantgarde) about a year ago, a second Swiss exhibition is dedicated to Kandinsky and Russian art. The difference to the Zurich exhibition is that his works from St. Petersburg museums are not in the center this time but instead mostly the ones from the Tretjakov Gallery in Moscow (which shows all of its Kandinsky oil paintings and works on paper).
 
The Fondation Pierre Gianadda has established close ties to the Tretjakov Gallery. It showed the decors made by Marc Chagall for the Jewish theatre in Moscow in 1991 - after the foundation had financed their restoration. In 1997 Martigny also showed a selection of outstanding Russian icons from the Gallery Tretjakov.

The current exhibition contains over 50 works of Kandinsky, showing his evolution from the late 1890s to the year 1921 which marks his definitive leavetaking from his native country. His works are shown in contrast with about 90 others made by Russian contemporary artists of Kandinsky. From the symbolism of Victor Borissov-Moussatov over the expressionism of Alexeï Jawlensky to the famous Black Square by Kasimir Malevich (not in its first version of 1915 but in a repetition of 1929).
 
The highlight of the exhibition are neither the Black Square nor the other famous paintings Composition VI and VII by Kandinsky from 1913, but Kandinsky's fragile works on paper. Other outstanding exhibits are his painting Red Square (1916), a still life by Alexandre Kouprine as well as three watercolours by Aristarkh Lentoulov.

Two works on paper by Varvara Stepanova, Corps Masculin and Corps Féminin (1920), stand out considering their date of creation. By the way, in 1920 Stepanova was together with Rodtchenko not only Kandinsky's closest collaborator at the Moscow Institute of Culture, but the two were also responsible for the fact that Kandinsky left the institute and returned to Germany (where he began teaching at the Bauhaus). The confict was about the influence of Malevitch's Suprematism. Malevitch was about to develop his idea of Constructivism. Still, Ladovski, Popova, Korolev und Rodtchenko had undergone the teachings of Kandinsky and were strongly influenced by his methods of formal analysis.
 
Kandinsky's writing Content and Form, a sort of preface to his famous essay On the Spiritual in Art, was published in Odessa in 1910 (Natalia Adaskina). Kandinsky shortly afterwards wrote On the Spiritual in Art in Russian. It was  publicly read and discussed in St. Petersburg and in Moscow in 1912. But it was published in Russia only in 1914 (after the German edition). Ironically, in Russia this originally Russian writing is often referred to by a translation from German into Russian of the year l967 (Jean-Claude Marcadé).

It is no matter of course that Kandinsky's works survived the years of Stalinism in the Tretjakov Gallery. In 1936 an article on Social Realism as the only possible current in art appeared in Pravda. The fight against "formalism" began. The works of the avant-garde were taken out of the Soviet museums. The curators at the Gallery Tretjakov decided the hide Kandinsky's works in the archives and to delete their traces in the official inventories. That's how it was possible to preserve this great collection for posteriority.
 
The exhibition Kandinsky et la Russie in Martigny (Switzerland) is on display until June 12. The exhibition catalogue in French (42 CHF) mostly contains articles by Russian scholars from the Tretjakov Gallery. They analyze Kandinsky's history of reception in and his relation to Russia. You can also find a complete list of all exhibitions of Kandinsky in Russia with a series of related contemporary articles published in the Russian press. In Moscow Kandinsky's works, especially the early ones, where reviewed much more critically than in Odessa where he had grown up.
 
The Fondation Gianadda and other museums: Artlinks. If you read German, have a look at the following review articles in Cosmopolis on Kandinsky exhibitions in Tübingen, London, Munich (Der Blaue Reiter), Zurich (Die russische Avantgarde).
 

Ulrike Becks-Malorny: Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944 : The Journey to Abstraction (Big Art Series), November 1999, Taschen. Get it from Amazon.com.
 

Wassily Kandinsky, Federico Zeri, Marco Dolcetta: Kandinsky: The First Abstract Watercolour Painting
. Series: One Hundred Paintings, November 1999. Get it from Amazon.com.



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