Francesco Cangiullo. Pisa. 1914. Private Collection. © 2012 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome. Photo courtesy private collection.
NEW YORK - At this point, abstraction is such a familiar mode – perhaps the dominant one for painters – that it’s easy to forget that it had to be invented. And that development happened barely 100 years ago. There must be some people still living who are as old as abstraction. Weird.
The Museum of Modern Art’s big winter show, opening December 23, is devoted to this founding. Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925 may sound intellectual and heady, but the basic concept of the show feels fresh – that the titular movement was crowd-sourced, essentially, with artists trading ideas and building on each other’s work. The artists of the show’s era might have painted alone in their garrets, but they were densely interconnected and influential on each other.
František Kupka’s Localisation des mobiles graphiques II (Localization of graphic motifs II). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and Gift of Jan and Meda Mladek. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
“Groups can be more radical than individuals,” the show’s curator, Leah Dickerman, told me. “Just as scientific breakthroughs often come from groups, it’s the same with abstraction.”
As befits its subject, the show (on view through tax day, April 15) is absolutely huge, comprising some 400 works (what’s the word for bigger than a blockbuster?). There are many names you’d expect, from Picabia to Kandinsky, Mondrian to Steiglitz, but also ones that don’t roll off the tongue quite as easily: Gustav Klutsis, Ivan Kliun and Viking Eggeling. I’m guessing that the work of some of these lesser-known artists will provide discoveries for visitors to the show—the kind of holiday gift that true art lovers cherish.