Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kandinksy and Calder @ Centre Georges Pompidou

Kandinsky and Calder at Centre Georges Pompidou

It was a wet and cold afternoon, not a great day for wandering the streets of Paris, and it had also been a couple of weeks since we last visited an art gallery ... so, seeing as it is only a stones throw away from the apartment, we made a dash into the always interesting Centre Georges Pompidou.

The Pompidou Centre itself is a glorious postmodern structure, most famously recognised by the structures, escalaters and colour-coded pipes which are mounted on the exterior of the building. It also has a huge open area in the front which is often filled with people watching the various buskers, or the other people.

As well as presenting live theatre and music, and housing a huge library and cinemas, the Pompidou Centre also has two amazing permanent collections. Although the contemporary collection is closed until the end of May the modern collection is still open and it features artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Vassili Kandinsky, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol .... and many, many more.

But our visit was to see two of the "temporary" exhibitions, Alexander Calder and Vassili Kandinsky


The Vassili Kandinsky exhibition is a joint project between the Centre Pompidou, the Städtische Galerie in Lenbachhaus in Munich and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which hold the largest collections of the artist's works.

It presents a hundred of Kandinsky's finished (and two unfinished) paintings and provides an interesting overview of an artist considered to be one of the 20th century's key figures; both a celebrated painter and a published art theorist, Kandinsky is credited with painting the first modern abstract works.

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866 under the Czar, received a doctorate in law in Moscow then moved to Munich to study art. He returned to Moscow in 1914 and was in Russia during World War I and the Russian Revolution. Kandinksy returned to Germany in 1921 where he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture when it opened in 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France where he lived the rest of his life, he died in 1944 in Neuilly-sur Seine.

From his early watercolours and impressionistic works, not worlds away from the well known works of Claude Monet, through to the Russian-influenced folk art, celebrating his childhood and heartland and the creation and development of his abstract style, it was a very interesting and enjoyable exhibition with many large paintings.

Many of the works, especially the earlier ones created during the development of his abstract style, have meaningless titles such as "Improvisation" (Kandinsky's spontaneous paintings) and "Compositions" (his more elaborate works). For me this lack of definition only added to the abstractness of the pieces. It was a most enjoyable couple of hours, many of the pieces were like jazz music ... wild, with structure but also freedom; colours and space; busy and loose; complex and simple.


At a completely different level, the exhibition Alexander Calder Les années parisiennes (The Parisian years), 1926-1933, was much lighter and playful.

A "transatlantic" artist, Alexander "Sandy" Calder was born in America in 1898 and this exhibition concentrated on his "wire art" creations, including works depicting animals and the heads (and in a couple of instances the entire bodies) of famous personalities of the period (including 4 representations of Josephine Baker); his home made circus, including animals and performers, and also presents Calder's development of the mobile; it was a whimsical exhibition.

Calder is best known in France for the large mobiles and stabiles of painted metal exhibited in French cities and parks.

The exhibition presented many original works (no longer in motion) but in conjunction also presented many films and photographs showing the objects (in most cases circus performers and animals he created, often from found and recycled objects) being operated by Calder himself. As Elizabeth whispered to me during one of the film screenings, it was a bit "Miss Haversham-esque" to see a man, by the time the films were recorded more than 20 years later, playing with a toy circus he had created so many years earlier.

Calder created numerous little animals of bent metal, clowns and acrobats, ingeneous home made toys ... he is being celebrated as an artist as an inspired DIYer. A man who took base materials and primitive mechanisms and transformed them into true sculpture.

It was a much less cerebal exhibition than Kandinksy. After these two visits we spent an hour or so wandering through the amazing collection of modern art, but 5 or so hours later our heads were overflowing with amazing abstract art and it was time to leave.

I may even be tempted to put up with the huge crowds on a first Sunday of the month, when most of the museums in Paris, including the Georges Pompidou Centre, are open to the public free of charge, to wander through Kandinsky's amazing representation of the world one more time.

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