Improvising Improvisation: Reflecting on the Kandinsky Retrospective...  Retroactively

                                                           Rachel Smith Althof

Thinking about Kandinsky’s work, Graeme Sullivan’s Art Practice as Research and Susan Sontag’s (in)famous essay on Camp, I have been

thinking about how to express Kandinsky’s concepts uniquely and authentically.  I am interested in expressing my thoughts, feelings, and most

importantly, my sensibilities while viewing Kandinsky’s work.  Jazz musicians improvise with their voices (scat), Kandinsky’s improvisations

were visual, and what follows is my written improvisation of Kandinsky at the Guggenheim.  

Surrealist pastels.  Objects deconstructed.  Geometric meets organic.  Reminiscent of…  reminiscent of…  of…  something.  Of what?  

Where have I seen that before?  So familiar.  Doppelganger of images.  Seen or unseen.  Like Greenberg’s imitation of imitating, this is then

the imitation of imitating improvisation?  MODERNISM.

 Lil’ creatures, tiny lil’ creatures.  Have I seen that in a dream?  Color palettes so unique.  That brown and yellow with that blue and

pink.  I never would have thought that would “work.”  But it “works.”  MODERNISM.

 BIG, BOLD SHAPES with tiny, delicate shapes; muted and tinted hues, respectively.  Black lines, repeating on a background of burnt

sienna mixed with yellow ochre.  An “ethnic” design.  What does that even mean?  Isn’t everything ethnic, born from a cultural background.  


 Anthropomorphic -> à eye ball and figure, upside down.  Cubist figure walking, staccato, on yellow background.  Circles, so many circles:

the symbol of life.  

 Leaves and steps and pastels and saturation.  Exploration of color and shape.  Rhythm, repetition and beat.  DARK.  Diagonal –is that

a heart?  Rhythm, repetition and beat.  Wild pastel monster.  Variety.

 Shaded, muted hues and the texture of sand.  Strong, vertical, black and white in the background.  Contrast thumping.  Swooping

line.  Repeated swooping line.  Rhythm, repetition and beat.              

 Repeating lines – strong, sharp lines running on a diagonal.  Shooting through space.  A soft ribbon flowing through the lines, softly,

gently. Narrowly averting the pungent diagonal arrows.

 The images are deafening.  Crash!  Broken stained glass – shattered composition.  Ruptured thoughts.  But still so orderly.  Shattered

concepts of art.  MODERNISM.

                                                                                  Epilogue (MODERNISM)

I am not a poet, nor is this a poem.  This is a written account of personal (post-modern/postmodern/Postmodern) sensibilities while viewing

Kandinsky’s work, and a risk in the interest of exploring ideas.
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Vasily Kandinsky
Red Spot II (Krasnoe Pyatno II ), 1921
Oil on canvas, 137 x 181 cm
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich
© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New
York/ADAGP, Paris
Vasily Kandinsky
Composition 8 (Komposition 8), July 1923
Oil on canvas, 140 x 201 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,
Solomon R.
Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.262
© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP,
Vasily Kandinsky
Sky Blue (Bleu de ciel ), March 1940
Oil on canvas, 100 x 73 cm
Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Gift of Nina
Kandinsky, 1976
© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Photo: Philippe Migeat, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris,
diffusion RMN