Vasily Kandinsky was the pioneer of abstract art. His art and his theories profoundly influenced the School of Paris Abst,ract Expressionists in the United States, and Australian expressionist painters.

This new exhibition, which draws on extensive holdings of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is the largest Kandinsky exhibit to be held in Australia.

It contains about 50 pieces that cover the entire range of the artist’s vision. Jugendstil and Impressionism influence the early “folky”, art nouveau-inspired works. There are also the revolutionary abstracts, with their impressions and improvisations. And finally, the refined, late geometrical and biomorphic works.

Before the Nazis shut down the German Bauhaus, he was one of its most influential teachers. In 1911, he wrote The Spiritual in Art – the most significant essay of the 20th century.

This exhibition has struck me as being a great example of Kandinsky’s timeless magic.

When you visit an exhibition of early modern art, such as Picasso’s Cubism, you might be impressed by its avant-garde qualities that were so impressive in their time, but now they seem dated.

Kandinsky’s paintings are still relevant and contemporary today.

Read more: If I could go anywhere: German Modernism at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart — beauty, play and the horror of war.

Speaking directly to the soul

Kandinsky painted figuratively in his early works, such as Blue Mountain (1908-1909) or Landscape with Factory Chimneys (1910). Kandinsky invites viewers to explore the landscape and take a stroll in the painting.

Vasily Kandinsky. Blue Mountain, 1908-1909. Oil on canvas, 107.3 cm x 97.6cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Solomon R. Guggenheimfounding Collection. Photo courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Kandinsky, along with the Theosophists, had a distrust of science. He once said that:

The disintegration was like the disintegration of the entire world […]. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a stone melted and became invisible in front of my eyes.

The mistrust of science is linked to the suspicion of the physical world as perceived through the senses and the desire to explore spiritual realities that bypass empirical observation and speak directly to the soul.

Kandinsky’s great paintings, such as Improvisation 28 Second Version (1912), Landscape With Rain (1913), and the amazing Painting with White Border (May 1913), break away from the figurative world and create their very own reality.

Vasily Kandinsky. Landscape with rain, Jan 1913. Oil on canvas. 70.5 x 86.4 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, photo courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Kandinsky began to question the necessity of objects in a painting and showed a willingness to embrace the fantasy and power of the palette.

Kandinsky’s use of color was to express a spiritual experience. Colours were associated with different spiritual states.

A short-lived and sensory effect characterizes Kandinsky’s works. Warm colors, like vermilion, attract the eye. The bright yellow of lemons is painful.

Psychological resonance occurs when a sensory impression produces an emotional vibration, either directly or by association. For example, red represents fire and blood, while black is a silent pain, and orange has the same appeal as the sound of the church bell.

Vasily Kandinsky, Blue segment, 1921. Oil on canvas, 120.7 x 140.3 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding collection, photo courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Kandinsky wrote about the painting with a white border.

The musical spirit of Russia was my goal at that time. I did this by using lines and patches of color.

In the upper-left corner, three black lines can be seen that represent the troika of Russian horses. The Russian St George is shown in the middle with his lance slaying a dragon that was threatening to invade his homeland. The painting is divided into separate elements, and each aspect is studied separately. These studies provide information about the different parts.

Kandinsky noted in a famous passage from On the Spiritual in Art:

The color is the keypad. The soul is like a piano with many strings […]. Harmony is founded on the principle that Harmony is necessary.

Kandinsky painted many paintings between 1920 and 1936, such as Blue Segment (1921), Blue Painting (January 1924), and Dominant Curve (April 36), which refined some of his earlier organic forms by using geometric discipline.

Vasily Kandinsky. Dominant Curve, April 1936. Oil on canvas. 129.2 cm x 194.3cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, photo courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Kandinsky was a brilliant painter, graphic artist, and thinker. His vision has changed how we view art. This landmark exhibition redefines his position in art to an Australian audience for the first.