Wassily Kandinsky was one of the important pioneers of abstraction. Amid the fraught political atmosphere of the twentieth century, his works rose above the competing schools of artistic thought and thoroughly altered the course of art history. By dint of his persistence and will, myriad artistic manifestations derived from abstraction began to flourish, emerging in great variety. This movement influenced countless generations of artists to come, including, on the other side of the globe, a group of Asian artists. This season, for the first time, Sotheby’s Hong Kong presents a work by the “Father of Abstract Expressionism.” Its juxtaposition alongside works by the Asian abstract masters highlights the interaction and enduring influences between the contemporary Asian pioneers who were studying overseas and the Western master, each illuminating the other. Finally emerging, then, is a complete picture of the development of Eastern and Western Abstract art since the twentieth century.
Generally speaking, abstract art can be separated into two types. The first, Lyrical Abstraction, features galloping, unrestrained lines and deep, rich color that serves as a metaphor for passionate feeling. In the West, it is represented by none other than Kandinsky, and in the East, by Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, and Walasse Ting. The second type of abstract art is Geometric Abstraction, or “cold abstraction,” which uses pure and logical geometric shapes of a single color to construct a minimalist space. Its representatives include Piet Mondrian, as well as the artists Richard Lin and Ho Kan, whose works are soon-to-be unveiled at our sale. Completed in 1931, the exquisite watercolor Annäherung (Lot 1025) was created during the artist’s later, more mature period of painting. Its offering at this Modern Art Evening Sale is a historic event, unfolding a dialogue that bridges East and West, between the lyrical and the geometric, and reveals the beginnings and development of the abstract art movement that swept across the entire globe.
From Der Blaue Reiter to Bauhaus
In the early 1910s, Kandinsky and Franz Marc established the artistic group, Der Blaue Reiter. They held a critical view toward the styles of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and advocated casting off the shackles of objective, representational art, and instead, uncovering art’s inherent spirituality. Although the group was active for only a few years, its contributions to art history have been deep and enduring. After the founding of the group, Kandinsky’s own style turned towards abstraction. He released himself from the existing mandate of portraying concrete details, and returned to the basic artistic language of the dot, the line, and the plane. In this way, he aimed to convey interior emotions and rhythm, things beyond the realm of the visual experience. In the early twentieth century, prior to World War II, while in Weimar teaching at the Bauhaus School, Kandinsky entered a highly creative and productive period. His earlier style, compositions imbued with romance and freedom of imagination, were now uniting with geometric forms that contributed a feeling of patterned regularity. Having studied classical music since a young age, Kandinsky began to experiment with musical elements in his paintings. By manifesting “the forms that appear[ed] before [his] eyes while listening to music”, he daringly stepped across the boundaries of visual art and into the depths of other realms. In Annäherung, the background appears as a musical staff, supporting the musical notes and notations that are suspended ephemerally in the form of geometric shapes and lines. Dotted with graceful and bright color, the work appears just like a musical composition, calling its intoxicated listeners to rise and dance.
Kandinsky believed that abstract art was not the chaos and randomness that people might imagine it to be. Rather, it transcends the framework of representation, and, while possessing an anti-academy and anti-realist spirit, it possesses its own system of order. In the theoretical book Point and Line to Plane, published in 1926, Kandinsky rigorously elaborates on the properties of various points of view, lines, and planes, and the interplay resulting from the arrangement of various elements upon the plane. Theory gave rise to creation, and in the dynamic arrangement of Annäherung, triangles, squares, circles, straight lines, and curved lines not only inflict a reaction upon each other, but come together in a kind of balance, just as the title suggests. Seemingly oppositional elements resolve into a conciliatory position. The blazing emotions contained in the color soften the geometric shapes’ plainness and abruptness, achieving a visual unity and harmony. Annäherung is a culmination of the artist’s conclusions toward abstract art, beginning from Der Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus period, testifying to Kandinsky’s enduring belief in an abstract expression that transcends the representational form. Standing in front of Kandinsky’s abstract paintings, what we see are conceptual images, each confounding us and eluding our full comprehension. It is only by opening up our senses, casting off staid habits of analysis, that we can fully appreciate their prodigious artistic purity and charm.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale