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Kandinsky’s DNA

If you loathe modern art, but want to give it one more try, see the Guggenheim Museum’s current exhibition of Vasily Kandinsky’s paintings. (The exhibition opened this past Friday and runs through January 13.) The museum owns a gazillion Kandinskys, but only occasionally mounts a full-fledged exhibition like this one. Nearly a hundred of his paintings, including many from European museums, are currently hanging on the slowly spiraling walls of Frank Lloyd Wright’s great building.

Kandinsky, one of the founders of abstract painting (the two others are Mondrian and Malevich), didn’t so much invent abstraction as discover it. On his own account, he walked into his studio one day and saw a beautiful painting, leaning against a wall, that he’d never seen before. With a start, he realized it was his own landscape, haphazardly lying on its side. In a stunning epiphany, he knew he no longer needed references to the real world in order to make beautiful, meaningful paintings.

My writer/painter/critic/husband Peter Plagens has an online piece on the Guggenheim show at Newsweek.com. Coming directly after my previous post about his take on the Chelsea art scene, my post today seems like shameless promotion of the man, although exploitation is actually more like it. Heck, if you have to put up with listening to a well-known art critic go on about art all the time, from the break of dawn to the full-blown twinkling of the stars, the very least you should get to do is steal his ideas (via a link, of course) for your blog.

“Kandinsky’s Heirs” amounts to a concise survey of how modern art came up the river from Kandinsky (who painted from the 1910s through the mid-1940s) and docked along the way in the brains of successive artists. The piece traces Kandinsky’s influence on 10 artists — some of them big names, such as Gorky, de Kooning, and Pollock, and some relatively unknown, such as Heidi Pollard and Mark Mullin, and, at the end, Peter himself.

Kandinsky’s abstraction ranged from the light and expressionist to the tight and geometric. He left plenty of room for artists with wide-ranging styles to come along afterwards and take from him what they wished for their own avenues of exploration. Artistic greatness is measured at least in part by artistic legacy; in Kandinsky’s case, that legacy has been enormous.

Just as the Guggenheim will quietly take down the Kandinsky exhibition, come January, and return the paintings to storage, Newsweek will quietly archive Peter’s article sometime in the next few days. If you go to Newsweek.com and type “Kandinsky” in the search window, you should be able to find it.

(Oh, and by the way. Newsweek has a couple of typos in there. Makes my Brainstorm posts look like the work of the highest-paid copy editor in the world.)

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