"I do not need to tell you how interested I am in the plans for the museum," an enthusiastic Vasily Kandinsky, the pioneer abstractionist, wrote to an American supporter in 1936. "Do you and Mr. G. intend to show the collection....as it looks today, or do you wish to wait until the museum is a reality?"
"Mr. G." was Solomon R. Guggenheim, the art collector who did, indeed, launch a museum three years later. It wasn't until 1959, though, that the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building that bears Guggenheim's name opened to the public. The Kandinsky-Guggenheim link, forged as early as 1929, has remained over the decades: The museum is one of the three largest repositories in the world of paintings by the artist.
So, what better 50th-anniversary celebration for the Guggenheim than a full-scale Kandinsky retrospective-the first in this country in almost a quarter century?
Opening Sept. 18, the exhibition brings together nearly 100 paintings not only from the Guggenheim's holdings but from the Centre Pompidou, in Paris, and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, in Munich, as well as other public and private collections.
"It's fitting for [the Guggenheim] to be filled with Kandinsky's paintings," said Tracey Bashkoff, who curated the New York show. (It has two co-curators, in Paris and Munich.) "One can say Kandinsky's work was the work that inspired the collection and the building."
Highlights start with the 1907 "Das Bunte Leben"-"A Colorful Life"-from Munich. "It's one of the very few entirely representational works" in the show, said Ms. Bashkoff, the Guggenheim's associate curator for collections and exhibitions. With its dark background and closely-packed figures, it was "inspired by his interest in Russian icons and fairy tales and folk stories," she said. (Born in Russia in 1866, Kandinsky moved between there and Germany, eventually settling in France, where he died in 1944.)
Just a few years later, Kandinsky was producing the first of his "non-objective" paintings: "He preferred the term 'non-objective' to 'abstract'," Bashkoff said. "I think for him, something could be 'abstracted' from the observable world. And a 'non-objective' painting has no ties whatsoever to the observable." Included from this period are a 1911 "Painting with Circle," from the Republic of Georgia, and the Guggenheim's own "Light Picture" of 1913. "It's that moment where he's working out the real separation from observable imagery to the expression of the artist's inner life," Bashkoff said.
Though the show is installed chronologically, "there are certainly recurring themes and imagery," the curator said: Horse-and-rider depictions (with the rider "a stand-in for the artist moving forward"); paintings that explore the relationship of music to art; the dancing lines, triangles and circles of Kandinsky's geometric paintings; and the biomorphic-embryonic?-forms in his later work.
With its circular layout, "one of the beauties of the Frank Lloyd Wright building is that you can step back and see two periods at once-between ramps," Bashkoff said. "You can see where you're going and where you've come from. So there are associations across time."
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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