Published: May 27, 2003
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Five works by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) are on exhibition at Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum through July 13. The paintings are on loan from museums in Paris and New York.
Visitors can view four large panels created for the circular hallway of a New York apartment (on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York) and a square canvas titled “Painting with the Red Spot,” which now belongs to the Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris.
Those interested in studying Kandinsky’s work in more depth can find “Jocular Sounds,” a 1929 painting from his Bauhaus period, in a gallery nearby. In addition, many of his drawings, watercolors, gouaches and prints are available for viewing in the museum’s study room during public hours (Tuesday through Friday, 2 to 4:45 pm or by appointment).
Kandinsky was one of the most accomplished pioneers of radically abstract painting in the Twentieth Century. After studying law, economics and ethnography in Moscow, he took up art at age 30 and moved to Munich, Germany. There he was a founder, along with his friend and colleague Franz Marc, of the influential Blue Rider group (1911-1914). The group published an almanac and mounted exhibitions that promoted the renewal of art through so-called primitive styles, spiritual goals and a universalism of creative friendship.
During his time in Germany, Kandinsky gradually evolved toward nonrepresentationalism, and sometime in 1913 or 1914, he made an important transition to wholly nonobjective works.
Kandinsky was commissioned in 1914 to paint four large panels for a circular hallway in the Park Avenue apartment of Edwin R. Campbell (1874-1929), one of the founders of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. The project appealed to Kandinsky’s lifelong interest in decoratively transforming the indoor and outdoor environments.
The four panels form a dramatic group, “one of the great ensembles of Twentieth Century painting,” according to Peter Nisbet, Daimler-Benz curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. “In their varying formats and diverging deployment of rich color, differing brushstrokes and varying compositional densities, the panels can seem to envelop and surround the viewer,” he said.
By contrast, the single painting titled “Painting with the Red Spot” is perfectly square and seems to invite the viewer to become immersed in its deep vortex of forms. “In its geometric purity and dimensional quality, the square has almost become the emblematic format for modern abstract painting,” Nisbet said.
The Busch-Reisinger Museum is at 32 Quincy Street. For information, 617-495-9400 or artmuseums.harvard.edu.
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