Tate Modern Level 4 East
22 June – 1 October 2006
Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction is the first major exhibition in the UK to focus on the paintings of the Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), one of the most important figures in the evolution of abstraction. Over 90% of the works have never been seen before in this country and the show comprises 74 pieces of which 60 are paintings. These will be shown alongside a number of significant works on paper from major international collections. The exhibition focuses on the period in Kandinsky’s career when he is arguably at his height, and spans his time in Munich and Murnau in the second decade of the twentieth-century, his return to Moscow in 1914 and his departure from there in 1922 for Weimar via Berlin, where he accepted a teaching post at the Bauhaus.
An important group of works has come from State and regional collections in Russia. These join key paintings from many international collections in America and Europe. Among the most significant are two magnificent oils on canvas, Composition VI 1913 from The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and Composition VII 1913 from The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. These two outstanding works are at the heart of the exhibition and demonstrate Kandinsky’s fully developed abstract style following an intense period of experimentation. Composition VII is the largest work ever painted by Kandinsky with dimensions of two x three metres.
During the first two decades of the twentieth-century, Kandinsky moved beyond observational work towards images generated by an inner vision. He reduced descriptive details and stripped away superfluous elements such as castles on hills or riders on horseback and began to use calligraphic lines as structuring devices within his compositions. With areas of bright colour and a dynamic and lyrical network of these lines, he created mobility and movement in his work and frequently made reference to the free-flowing emotions associated with music and the values attached to specific colours. The intense subjectivity of the work is one of the hallmarks of Expressionism and, in particular, one of the key concerns of the Blue Rider group, which Kandinsky co-founded with Franz Marc and Alexei Jawlensky in 1911. This exhibition features figurative works such as Study for Houses on a Hill 1909, Murnau, Castle Courtyard I 1908 and Landscape with Factory Chimney 1910 as well as works which demonstrate this development such as Improvisation 20 1911 and Deluge I 1912.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Kandinsky returned to Russia where he soon became involved with the artistic activities of the fledgling Soviet State. His paintings gradually evolved towards a more linear expression, for example in Blue Arch (Ridge) 1917 and Two Ovals 1919, in response to the work of other artists like Malevich and Lissitzky. Kandinsky, however, became disenchanted with an increasing political control over artistic expression and left Russia for Berlin in 1921. Early the following year he was invited to join the Bauhaus. The flowing forms and bright colours of his work up to that point gave way to a rich, though more muted, palette, and ordered, geometrical structure. The onset of this new way of painting forms the end point of this exhibition in works such as Circles on Black 1921.
The exhibition has been co-selected by Tate Curator Sean Rainbird, for Tate Modern and Hartwig Fischer, Curator, for Kunstmuseum Basel. It will be accompanied by a full colour, illustrated catalogue with contributions from Shulamith Behr, Bruno Haas, Noemi Smolik and Reinhard Zimmermann. The exhibition will go on display at Kunstmuseum, Basel from 21 October 2006 to 4 February 2007.