Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Guggenheim on its 50th anniversary and Kandinsky Film


Kandinsky, a full-scale retrospective of the visionary artist, theorist, pioneer of abstract art, and seminal figure in the history of the Guggenheim Museum will be presented from September 18, 2009, to January 13, 2010. This exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in cooperation with the St├Ądtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The film "Kandinsky and the Russian House" was released in 2007 and has featured as part of the Kandinsky exhibitions in Germany and at the Pompidou centre in Paris. It gives me great pleasure that the film will be associated with the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim especially as Kandinsky served as an inspiration for the foundation of this great museum. This retrospective will bring together more than 100 paintings drawn primarily from these three institutions, whose collections make up the three largest repositories of Kandinsky in the world, as well as from significant private and public collections. A DVD of "Kandinsky and the Russian House" will be on sale at the exhibition and can be purchased at the Guggenheim shop in New York

When I was in Germany filming "Kandinsky and the Russian House" I was invited by a director friend, Peter Goedel who lived in Munich, to the film festival which was going at the time of filming. I had met Peter at another film festival in Toronto a year or so earlier and this meeting was one reason why I decided to go ahead and make a film about Kandinsky. Peter's superb film "Tangier -Legend of a City" won three awards at Toronto and it was he who invited me to Munich when he heard that I was thinking of making a film about Kandinsky.

When I mentioned Kandinsky at the Munich Film Festival, people often talked about him as if he was a quasi European painter in the Matisse or impressionist mould and didn't seem enthusiastic about acknowledging that Kandinsky was Russian at all. However if you look at Kandinsky's work, the light that he found even in Southern Bavaria is very similar to a Russian light, the light of the Steppe. This is true I believe of even the most abstract of his paintings. Even as I look out of my window on a bright sunny Moscow morning I see Kandinsky's colours and light everywhere. Anybody who has spent a long period of time in Russia will, in my opinion recognise this. The Argentinian and Irish artist Carmen Casey, who lived in Moscow for more than six years, commented to me that one of the difficulties she found about working in Moscow when she first arrived, was the sheer intensity of the light (on a sunny day of course) which she wasn't used to and had never encountered befere. When I tried to explain this to people they would look at me blankly while I rambled on about my theories, especially the one that Kandinsky is the quintessential Russian painter. As he himself said, "Moscow is the tuning fork for all my painting". And that is despite the fact that Kandinsky spent many years in all the European centres of artistic excellence of that time; Munich, Paris and finally Berlin at the Bauhaus. He always, I believe, returned artistically to his Russian roots . Why did he leave Russia it might be asked. In some ways it doesn't make sense to ask such a question. Every artist must continuously expand their horizons and seek inspiration by travelling and through studying other cultures. Kandinsky came from a section of Russian society who would have been familiar with all the philosophical and cultural trends of Europe as well as Russia and would have been drawn to Europe as a result. However, the fact that Kandinsky no longer painted in Russia and had moved to Europe made him no more a European painter and no less a Russian painter.
Where ever artists find themselves they always see the world with their own eyes and interpret what they see from their own inner understanding.
An other factor here is the eastern influence in European painting which at that time was not such a strange thing as one might imagine. The collector of Central Asian Ikats or multi coloured robes,Tair Tairov, believes that the abstract patterns of these textiles and robes inspired a generation of artists in Europe. Picasso, Mattisse, Whistler and many others were all influnced one way or another by eastern art in particular Japanese art. It could be said that eastern art with its emphasis on the abstract was a componatnt part of the rise of abstract art in Europe and America. Kandinsky apparantely himself remarks how these multi-coloured robes infleunced his artistic development.

The film "Kandinsky and the Russian House" was released in 2007 and is part of a series of 6 films about the Russian Avant-garde.