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The installation Vasily Kandinsky Around the Circle, at the Guggenheim, curated by Megan Fontanella, opened in October and was closing in February, so I added it to my agenda for Sunday morning, my last in town.

The installation website has excellent details about the curatorial decision making. Kandinsky, a complicated figure, is here sensitively exposed. In this exhibition, Kandinsky’s work unfolds in reverse chronological order, starting with his late-life paintings and proceeding upward along the Guggenheim’s spiral ramp.

Kandinsky round the ramps

I had read Peter Schjeldahl’s piece, Choose Your Own Kandinsky Adventure at the Guggenheim, in the November 8, 2021, issue of The New Yorker. Schjeldahl begins:

“Choose a direction for your perusal of “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle,” a retrospective that lines the upper three-fifths of the Guggenheim Museum’s ramp with some eighty paintings, drawings, and woodcuts by the Russian hierophant of abstraction, who died in France in 1944, at the age of seventy-seven. The show’s curator, Megan Fontanella, recommends starting at the bottom, with the overwrought works of the artist’s final phase, and proceeding upward, back to the simpler Expressionist landscapes and horsemen of his early career. This course is canny in terms of your enjoyment, which increases as you go.” 

And, given the way the last year and a half had been, I decided to start at the bottom and go up, in reverse chrono, for the canny enjoyment, rather than the decay into madness.

I had, again, scheduled the earliest appointment of Sunday morning. In this instance, I was walking directly from Chez Nick, so arrived early and was first in line, masked and with my vaccination card and i.d.

I have a series of works that relate to reincarnation. I make copies of, or represent works made by artists I respect who died the year I was born. One of these is a rubber stamp print of Magritte’s Labors of Alexander, his last drawing – which became a three-dimensional sculpture. I had prints and was giving them away and leaving them all about town, especially around the Surrealism show.

Standing in line at the Gugg behind me were a young man from France and his parents. The young man lived in New York and his parents were visiting. We spoke French as I welcomed them and we waited. I gave them a Magritte print and explained my interest in reproducing works by people who died the year I was born. The father was skeptical. The mother only asked, “Who else do you do this with?” I only smiled enigmatically to express I had said too much already and they let us in.

Schjeldahl was right, it would have been totally different coming down from up. But this was a comprehensive exhibition of one of the most remarkable minds of the 20th century, either way.

Fragments, 1943
Vertical Accents, 1942
Around the Circle, May – August, 1940
Little Accents, 1940
Yellow Painting, 1938
Green Circle, 1935
Striped, November 1934
Decisive Rose, 1932
Several Circles, 1926
Composition VIII, 1923
Blue Segment, 1921
Landscape with Factory Chimney, 1910
Landscape near Murnau w Locomotive, 1909