A Review by Mark Harden
by Magdalena Dabrowski
Published by the Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019. $45.00
Wassily Kandinsky was one of the most original and influential artists of the twentieth-century. His "inner necessity" to express his emotional perceptions led to the development of an abstract styleof painting that was based on the non-representational properties of color and form. Kandinsky's compositions were the culmination of his efforts to create a "pure painting" that would provide the same emotional power as a musical composition. The exhibition "Kandinsky: Compositions", organized by Magdalena Dabrowski and on display at the Los Angeles County Art Museum until September 3, 1995,presents these monumental works together for the first and possibly last time and provides an opportunity to witness the creative process of Kandinsky.
(Black) is like the silence of the body after death, the close of life.
- Wassily Kandinsky, 1911
Kandinsky viewed the compositions as major statements of his artistic ideas. They share several characteristics that express thismonumentality: the impressively large format, the conscious, deliberate planning of the composition, and the transcendence of representation by increasingly abstract imagery. Just as symphonies define milestones in the career of a composer, Kandinsky's compositions represented the culmination of his artistic vision at a given moment in his career.
Regrettably, the first three compositions were destroyedduring World War II. They are represented in the exhibition by full-scale, black-and-white photographic reproductions. One of the strengths of the exhibition is the assembly of preliminary studies for most of the works. These were done in oil, watercolor, ink and pencil. These help convey a sense of the three lost compositions, but cannot hope to replace the actual canvasses. The viewer is leftwith a profound feeling of loss for the destroyed works.
"Composition IV", 1911
( 639 x 404 / 59 k / jpeg )
This feeling provides a contrast that enhances the impact of Composition IV, a maelstrom of swirling colors and soaring lines. The painting is divided abruptly in the center by two thick, black vertical lines. On the left, a violent motion is expressed through the profusion ofsharp, jagged and entangled lines. On the right, all is calm, with sweeping forms and color harmonies. We have followed Kandinsky's intention that our initial reaction should result from the emotional impact of the pictorial forms and colors. However, upon closer inspection the apparent abstraction of this work proves illusory. The dividing lines are actually two lances held by red-hatted Cossacks.Next to them, a third, white-bearded Cossack leans on his violet sword. They stand before a blue mountain crowned by a castle. In the lower left, two boats are depicted. Above them, two mounted Cossacks are joined in battle, brandishing violet sabers. On the lower right, two lovers recline, while above them two robed figures observe from the hillside. Kandinsky has reduced representation topictographic signs in order to obtain the flexibility to express a higher, more cosmic vision. The deciphering of these signs is the key to understanding the theme of the work. An awareness of Kandinsky's philosophy leads to a reading of Composition IV as expressing the apocalyptic battle that will end in eternal peace. Composition IV works on multiple levels: initially, the colors and forms exercise anemotional impact over the viewer, without need to consider the representational aspects. Then, the decoding of the representational signs involves the viewer on an intellectual level. I find that I can no longer view Composition IV without automatically translating the imagery to representational forms. Yet this solving of the work's mysteries does not draw the life from it; rather, the original...