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.
Oh wait, MODERNISM.
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.
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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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
Composition 8 (Komposition 8), July 1923
Oil on canvas, 140 x 201 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,
Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.262
© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP,
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
© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Photo: Philippe Migeat, courtesy Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris,