Abstract Art

Vasily Kandinsky Gets Ugliness Right

The Daily Pic: Abstraction's pioneer avoided easy good looks.

03.22.13 10:17 PM ET

This is “Impression III (Concert)”, by Vasily Kandinsky, and I think it is very ugly – gloriously, importantly ugly. I saw it again today, on my fourth visit to “Inventing Abstraction” at the Museum of Modern Art, and was impressed once again by how much it stood out from the other art on view. The problem with abstraction is how very easily it turns into a set of easy, decorative tropes. I was marveling today at how, within months of trying abstraction on for the first time, the great Czech artist František Kupka managed to perfect a self-contained, coherent, and absolutely stylish personal idiom and manner – almost as though Parmigianino or Schiavone had come directly after Giotto. Whereas Kandinsky’s first pictures manage to stay much more difficult than that, never following any recipe or becoming easy on the eyes.

I think that’s because they are trying to capture the extreme, persistent difficulty of the radical music, by Arnold Schoenberg, that influenced him, and his early pictures. I was struck by how pleasant it was to look at all of the abstractions in this show – and by the way its recordings of Schoenberg’s music still feel like they present an intellectual and emotional challenge.

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