May 17, 2013
thesmartset.com | By Morgan Meis
It is like the message above Dante's Gates of Hell. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Except that we are not entering hell, we are entering an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The message at the Gates of MoMA is in the form of a question. It asks, "Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?" The writer of the message is neither God nor Satan. He was a human being, and from Russia. His name was Wassily Kandinsky.
The attempt to answer Kandinsky's question led to a transformation in painting the implications of which are still being felt today. The transformation was Abstraction. Painters, just a few years prior to Kandinsky, happily portrayed human beings and animals and landscapes and historical events. After Kandinsky, pure forms and shapes and colors took over the canvas. This was a shocking and more or less unprecedented development. It took the art world by storm and carried the oft-bewildered public along with it.
The current show at MoMA, “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,” tracks the developments in painting over those 15 tumultuous years. The question that lingers behind the show is: “Why did they do it?” The answer is to be found on the canvases, and also in the writings and comments that are left behind by many of the early pioneers in abstract painting. Abstract painting was an attempt to paint the Absolute. Kazimir Malevich, the Russian Suprematist painter and early practitioner and theorist of abstract painting proclaimed, "I have broken the blue boundary of color limits, come out into the white; beside me comrade-pilots swim in this infinity." The majority of early abstract painters felt a version of Malevich's glee. They were getting rid of the constraints of figurative painting. They were moving past false appearances and entering the domain of Truth. Painting in the abstract was a way of painting the true reality of the world, the real essences that are obscured in our everyday perception. Robert Delaunay, another pioneer in abstract painting, said that, "Direct observation of the luminous essence of nature is for me indispensable." Read More...
Image "Landscape with Rain" Vasily Kandinshy(1913)