Kandinsky's Abstraction: 1910-1914

Instructor: Riccardo Marchi

In the first years of the 20th century, artists in Europe deeply changed the forms and function of painting, questioning the traditional criteria of depiction of reality and the very relationship of art to the world. A radical aspect of this mutation was the elimination of recognizable objects from pictures and the creation of “abstract” art. This seminar takes a close look at one of the protagonists of this momentous transformation in the history of Western images and art: Wassily Kandinsky.
Between 1910 and 1914, in his pictures he progressively dissolved depicted objects in whirlpools of color and movement, achieving what he called “absolute” or “non-objective (gegenstandslos)” painting. At the same time, he reflected on his pictorial practice in key texts: On the Spiritual in Art (1911); “On the Question of Form” (1912), published in the Blue Rider almanac he edited with Franz Marc; and “Reminiscences” (1913).

We study select paintings by Kandinsky, his theoretical texts and some of the most relevant scholarship on him. Our goal is to understand the significance of Kandinsky’s abstract painting in its historical context, and we consider it in relationship with theosophy, apocalyptic imagery, folk art, Jugendstil, theories of the ornament and of empathy (Einfühlung), and recent perspectives on imagination, ambiguity and indeterminacy in modern art. We also devote special attention to the exhibition and contemporary reception of Kandinsky’s art.