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"Wassily Kandinsky: Tradition and Abstraction in Russia"
2001-02-17 until 2001-06-10
Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta
Milan, , IT Italy

The new exhibition on Wassily Kandinsky contains over ninety works including paintings on canvas, watercolors, drawings and engravings from the Tret'jakov Gallery of Moscow and other Russian museums, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Venice and various private collections.

The chronology begins in 1896, the year in which Kandinsky, at the age of thirty (born in Odessa in 1866), with a law degree, married to his cousin Anja Shemjakina, abandoned his academic career and moved toMunich to work exclusively on art. It stops in 1921, the year in which he headed back from Moscow (where he had returned in 1914) to Germany, where the climate of the Bauhaus was to influence him to gradually make his images more geometric. The exhibition itinerary concentrates on three different planes of interpretation that form the basis for the show. The first, monographic level shows the stylistic evolution of Kandinsky from the early naturalistic works to the achievement of abstraction.

The second level reflects the Russian art scene, as an antagonistic context, in some cases, but also as a situation of consensus with respect to Kandinsky's work. Thus works are included by symbolist artists like Victor Borissov-Mussatov, fauvists like Il'ja Machkov and abstract artists like Kazimir Malevich or Aleksandr Rodchenko. Among the most significant works we can mention The Dancers (1908) by Michail Malevich, the Abstract Composition (1916) by Olga Rosanova, The Peacock under the Shining Sun (1911) by Natalja Goncharova, The House in the Mountains (1912) by Alexej Jawlensky, Pictorial Architecture (1916-17) by Ljubov Popova, Composition 86 (1919) by Aleksandr Rodchenko.

The third level focuses on the Russian cultural heritage, through a significant series of icons of the 17th century and objects from the Russian folk tradition, which represented a reference point for the artists of the avant-garde.

The surpassing of 19th-century academic realism and the conquest of new figurative languages took place, in fact, through the examples offered by primitive art and national folklore. Kandinsky transformed themes such as that of St. George battling the dragon or Elijah on a flaming chariot into personal emblems and new non-figurative forms.

But in Kandinsky tradition and abstraction also allude to an alternation (present in his art until 1917-18) between the figurative and abstract planes, either opposed or juxtaposed. Alongside fully non-representational works we also find many figurative works that are not merely or exclusively forerunners of abstract inventions.The fulcrum of the exhibition is Composition VII, undisputed masterpiece of the abstract expressionist period, the most important and mysterious of the ten compositions created by Kandinsky during his career. The artist painted this work in Munich in November 1913, the same year as other great works like Composition VI and Painting with White Border. Nevertheless the complex elaboration of Composition VII, which can be interpreted as a sort of Last Judgement, gives this work a unique character: the last of the great expressionist creations, it sums up the ideas and convictions of Kandinsky in the most fervent years of his battle in favor of abstract art.

The term composition, for Kandinsky, indicates a work completed after a long period of development. He wrote: Expressions that take form inside me in a particularly slow way and which, after the first sketches, I examine and rework at length, in an almost pedantic way.

For Composition VII, in fact, the artist made about thirty preparatory studies, from a diagram drawing to a large rough version in oil. The fulfillment of Kandinsky's abstract research, Composition VII also marks a turning point dramatically emphasized by historical and biographical events, forcing the artist to retrace his steps, in both concrete and metaphorical terms.

In the early years of the second stay in his beloved Moscow Kandinsky also returned to figurative work and to those genres, such as landscape or scenes from fables, that had characterized his earlier output, while around him the research of the Russian avant-garde, with the suprematists and the constructivists, was exploring new thresholds of non-representative art. In Russia, therefore, the artist reworked his own language of abstract forms, in dialogue with contemporary solutions.

The exhibition also features other very important paintings by Kandinsky, like Cupolas (1909), Improvisation VII (1910), Arabs III (1911), Orient II (1913), as well as a number of works on paper, including several graphic series created at the start of his career, like the Poems without Words of 1903.

Wassily Kandinsky,
Mosca I (Piazza Rossa), 1916

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