Sunday, October 18, 2009

The First Coming

I don't mean to judge, but anyone who does not go to the Guggenheim's Kandinsky retrospective is an idiot.

I'm going to make this really simple.

I am a professional Art Historian.

Kandinsky is the primary reason why.

The other is Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi, so now you know what kind of standards I hold.

The Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim is so good that I not only talked to a total stranger halfway through the show, but one of the paintings actually made me fall over, and I felt my rear end tingle at one point.

I have no shame about this. If you don't have a similar reaction, you're not looking hard enough.

Here's the deal, for those of you that don't know much about Modern Art or Kandinsky. A lot of people would argue that the history of 20th century art revolves around the development of abstract painting. Even if you don't like abstract painting, hang with me.

There are a few people who bear some profound responsibility for this. Turner, Cezanne, Picasso, Mondrian. Kandinsky is right there with them. If not ahead of them all.

If you don't understand abstract painting, or think you don't understand abstract painting, this show will part the clouds for you.

See, Kandinsky is evidence of a few pretty exciting things.

Number one: Abstract art can be, should be, must be understood as a natural outgrowth of representational painting. Somewhere in the early years of the 1910s, Kandinsky manifests this development. You can see it happen. The pivot is clear and obvious. And perhaps the most exciting moment in the history of art that I have ever witnessed.

Number two: Artists are not born geniuses, they learn to be geniuses. Kandinsky didn't start painting until his 30s. He got sick of his day job and decided to be a painter. He had history-changing success. Maybe it was innate, maybe it was dumb luck, maybe he was in the right place at the right time. His right place, right time is a where's where of Modern Art--Moscow, Munich, Berlin, Paris. If it happened somewhere, he was there. Probably before anyone else understood what the hell was going on.

Number three: Painting is about visual and spiritual revelation. Kandinsky's two books Concerning the Spiritual in Art and Point and Line to Plane are the two best books I have ever read about painting, with the exception of Leon Battista Alberti's Della Pittura. I mean this quite seriously. Looking at a good Kandinsky is like looking into the face of God. It is an experience that lays bare the structure of the universe and leaves one with the impression that all is planned, all is logic, and all is resonant with all else.

Go now. Give up an afternoon of football. If I'm saying that, you know this is the real thing.

Go now.

Or you're an idiot.

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