January 10, 2014

Vasily Kandinsky @ the Neue Galerie

Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 86th Street is the former William Starr Miller House, a Beaux Arts mansion built in 1914.  Since 1996 this elegant structure has been home to the Neue Galerie, a private museum dedicated to the fine and decorative arts of Germany and Austria in the early 20th century.  This is one of my favorite museums in New York and I have reported on many of their exhibitions and their outstanding permanent collection of furniture, objects and graphics in the Wiener Werkstätte style.

This season the Neue Galerie is presenting a look at the artist Vasily Kandinsky and the period "From Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus (1910-1925)".  Born in Moscow in 1866, Kandinsky changed studies from law to painting and relocated to Munich at the age of 30.  By 1910 he, along with fellow Russian emigrants Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, joined German artists Franz Marc, Auguste Macke, Lionel Feininger and Swiss artist Paul Klee, to found a new art movement known as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).  Although this movement did not have an official manifesto, like the Surrealists for example, the group did publish an Almanac and pursued common artistic ideals.  Their beliefs in modern, non-figurative art, the connection between music and painting, and the spiritual and symbolic meanings of color fostered a style that paved the way for Expressionism, Abstraction and the total environment of the Bauhaus.

With the outbreak of World War I, the group dispersed and Kandinsky returned to his native Russia to teach art and art theory.  It was a difficult adjustment for him and he went back to Germany in 1921 when Walter Gropius offered him a position at the Bauhaus in Weimar.

This was a much happier experience for Kandinsky who was a great proponent of the Bauhaus idea of Gesamptkunstwerk - the integration of art forms.  Here at the Bauhaus, it meant creating a total artistic environment including architecture, furnishings, decorations and fine art and also recognition of the performing arts as an integral part of the whole.  For Kandinsky in particular, it meant the merging of music and painting into his own unique style.

 "Black Form", 1923 

The Neue Galerie has assembled a superb group of 80 works that explore Kandinsky's artistic development during this watershed period.  Drawings, decorative pieces and major paintings by Kandinsky and his peers give the visitor a glimpse of the energy and synthesis in their artistic milieu.  A recreation of Kandinsky's mural project for the Juryfreie Kunstschau (Jury-Free Art Show) held in Berlin in 1922 is the icing on the cake - an amalgam art, theatre and music representing the Bauhaus ideal, and a precursor of the Abstraction to come. 

For me, no visit to the Neue Galerie is complete without a stop at the Café Sabarsky and a Viennese coffee and cake.  All New Year's diet resolutions are thrown out the window as whipped cream and chocolate beckon!  "Vasily Kandinsky:  From Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus" runs until February 10, 2014, and Café Sabarsky is open every day except Tuesday.

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