Archive for August, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Milwaukee Does Kandinsky Proud

Last week, I spent an invigorating, art-filled day in Paris and Germany but never left O’Hare. My partner and I drove to Milwaukee to view the Milwaukee Art Museum’s stunning exhibition on Wassily Kandinsky, one of the 20th Century’s most visionary and influential artists. This is a co-sponsored show between Milwaukee and Paris’ Centre Pompidou, the repository for much of his art and his archives which his widow donated to the Pompidou in 1980.

The Pompidou shipped 119 pieces to Milwaukee for what is probably the most complete show of his work that you will ever see in America. The show covers not one but all three of his artistic periods: 1906-13 with The Blue Rider group of artists in Munich (drawing on Milwaukee’s Bradley collection from this period), 1921-33 and his partnership with a famed group of artists, writers and architects known as The Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany and 1933-44 in Paris where his style undergoes a radical transformation. Kandinsky died there in 1944 at age 78.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

I have only seen a few prior Kandinsky works, usually as part of a larger theme show on abstraction or Russian art. This exhibit expanded both my knowledge of this pioneering artist and why he is not as revered by critics and contemporary artists.

It seems ironic and a shameful oversight that the artist, who invented a new language of abstract painting that substituted inner feeling over external form  (for which post-war Abstract Expressionists are in his debt) and the equal of Picasso and Braque’s experiments in Cubism’s deconstruction of the human form,  has “fallen by the wayside for many practicing artists and academics fearful of exploring his romantic yet dense and inspiring theories” according to Milwaukee’s chief curator, Brady Roberts.

Yellow-Red-Blue - 1925

Yellow-Red-Blue - 1925

Overshadowing him currently is his contemporary, Marcel Duchamp, the progenitor of conceptual art, a movement more in fashion since the ’60s. Yet one cannot emerge from the show without acknowledging the power of Kandinsky’s intellect and his artistic achievement, even if the personal symbolism behind the works remains mysterious. He used vibrant colors in his masterworks to be expressive of his inner feelings.


Juryfriere - "Salon de Reception"

Traveling to Milwaukee ranks as a must for any true art lover simply to experience a single work in the exhibition. Kandinsky painted a series of  wildly colorful, shooting star-like murals for the 1922  “Juryfreie” exhibition that filled all four walls of a room in that Berlin gallery. They have been exhibited only once–at the Pompidou’s opening in 1976. Milwaukee has reconstructed that octagonal room and rehung the murals. Being surrounded by Kandinsky’s abstract symbols, I felt a powerful surge of emotion, beyond the power of words. “Knocked Out” comes close to conveying the impact. Truly a unique sight in all my years of exploring art

Milwaukee's Third Ward

Milwaukee's Third Ward

GO! It’s the only time you will ever have this viewing experience in America again. It’s just a three-hour round-trip drive and you can combine the weekend visit with exploring the cafes and boutiques in the trendy Third Ward district. As well as many examples Milwaukee’s superb downtown early 20th Century architecture.

Kudos are also in order for the catalog that accompanies the show. It is a beautifully-produced volume that does justice to the art. Many of the color reproductions are big and bold and the color separations are excellent. Along with a useful chronology of Kandinsky’s life, it serves as a vivid reminder of a blockbuster exhibit worthy of the name.

Kandinsky: A Retrospective is up until September 1. For information on hours, location and parking, contact the Milwaukee Art Museum at 414/224-3200 or at