Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Der Blaue Reiter at Lenbachhaus, Munich

Visiting Munich Garageland reviewer Liza Weber takes in Gabriele Münter's staggering expressionist donation to Lenbachhaus and wonders where exactly Kandinsky's pianist has got to.

Franz Marc, Blaues Pferd I (Blue Horse I), 1911

On turning eighty years old Gabriele Münter gave, rather than received, an inestimable gift. In 1957 to Munich’s Lenbachhaus or, more accurately, to the world, she donated 90 oil paintings, 24 glass paintings, 116 watercolours and coloured drawings, 160 drawings, 28 sketchbooks and an entire collection of prints. Their corners confessed not the signature of her modest umlauted ‘M’ however, but rather nine upper case letters spelling that reddened name ‘KANDINSKY’.

Münter’s “basement of millions” has, after a quarter of a century, been unearthed. Its wings, no longer clipped by the Nazi regime, are – as in Franz Marc’s testimony to Futurism, Birds (1914) – unfurling.

Franz Marc, Vögel (Birds), 1914

Boasting the names of Jawlensky, Klee, Macke, Marc and more Der Blaue Reiter, a now permanent Lenbachhaus exhibition, left me short not of an expressionist, nor of a word or two to say about them. And so I briefly write, however indefensibly, chiefly on Kandinsky. For what I can extricate from the assembly of German artists exhibited in Munich, is Münter’s memorialization of a lifetime lived with Kandinsky, the painter and the paintings.

Gabriele Munter, Kandinsky und Erma Bossi am Tisch 
(Kandinsky and Erma Bossi at the Table in the Murnau House), 1912

Münter’s Kandinsky and Erma Bossi at the Table in the Murnau House (1912) certainly seems a painful preservation of her more private memories. Yet in its bilateral dining room, where Kandinsky and Bossi sit at a table set with china cups and saucers, it is Münter’s empty chair, on the peripheries of their conversation, that is the artwork’s axis. Her dumb chair, together with her tilting teapots lonely on a lace tablecloth, are the viewer’s psychological pivots, for they point to the purposelessness of their shared mundane reality. To our routine madness. It is not that she, or someone, is necessarily missing from the picture. Rather, meaningfulness is missing in Münter’s familiar.

Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation Deluge, 1913

The Blue Riders thus soon sought and found unfamiliar and unchartered territory for their playing field; they moved, if not galloped, inward. Indeed the legendary almanac Der Blaue Reiter published in 1912 supposedly explores the art movement’s “pluralism of its inner necessity”. Oxymoronic no? Granted, where Kandinsky’s blue stippled brush strokes in Improvisation Deluge (1913) physically amount to, at most, one-quarter of his composition, they optically surge from unknown springs, reverberating and altogether flooding his canvas. Kandinsky’s Improvisations are inner soundscapes. For where The Blue Riders were concerned, what we subconsciously listen to is greater than the sum of what we consciously see. To drown impromptu is only to resurface elsewhere. In the Black Square (1923) of Kandinsky’s rhombus perhaps? Or on that signature diagonal plane of the Riders’ reality.

Wassily Kandinsky, In The Black Square, 1923

Granted, The Blue Riders were hardly conventional, conservative, or conformist. They were, and are still today, challenging. While Kandinsky posited that Impressions are direct sensations from the outward nature of reality, I soon find myself puzzled as to why the artist’s canvas capturing his first experience of a recital of Arnold Schoenberg’s musical scores is labeled as such. For Kandinsky’s legless Klavier (piano) in Impression III (Konzert) (1911) gives more the impression of a vacant stage, whereby his audience tend towards its blackness, its silence. His impression of the Schoenberg concert seems not a literal translation from his real experience, but rather translates our literal experiencing of reality.

My grandfather, whispering in my ear “I am missing the pianist”, at once articulates our spectatorial self-conciousness. Kandinsky challenges his spectators as the ultimate performers of his composition. For it is our impression of the music that, after all, keeps count.

Liza Weber

Wassily Kandinsky, Impression III (Konzert), 1911

Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider)
Lenbachhaus, Munich

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