Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925
23 December 2012-April 15
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Catalogue by Leah Dickerman (ed.)
ISBN 9780500239025 (hardback), 48 [pounds sterling] (Thames and Hudson)
By developing the classical style, the High Renaissance painters drastically changed the history of art. The invention of abstraction was even more sudden: around 1910, first in France but then soon in Germany, Central Europe, England, Russia and the United States, many artists discovered that art need not have an identifiable, recognisable subject. Thus whereas Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael revolutionised the figurative artistic tradition, the inventors of abstraction did something absolutely untraditional. Already in 1877 Walter Pater had likened paintings from the 'School of Giorgione' to 'a space of ... fallen light, caught as the colours are in an Eastern carpet'. But it was one thing to suggest that non-mimetic paintings were possible, and another actually to make them. Today we tend to take the achievement of abstraction for granted, because for three generations so much ambitious art has also been abstract. But at the time, abstraction inspired massive resistance from art writers, the public and even artists themselves.
The first painting in this exhibition, Pablo Picasso's Femme a la Mandoline (1910), still shows traces of its subject matter. Vasily Kandinsky, whose Komposition V (1911) is in the second room, went one step further, eliding 'subject' altogether in favour of pure...
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