Kandinsky and Mussorgsky: What happens when artists inspire each other

It couldn’t come more full cirlce: Kandinsky created his only stage production based on Mussorgsky’s piano cycle, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” inspired by a photo exhibition. Kandinsky’s stage designs are now on exhibit.

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The Great Gate of Kyiv This year, the art world is celebrating the 150th birthday of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky – an appropriate occasion for bringing the original designs of his stage production “Pictures at an Exhibition” to Dessau, where the work premiered in 1928. The paintings were based on the piano cycle with the same title by composer Modest Mussorgsky.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” were originally a cycle of works for piano written by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. For artist Wassily Kandinsky, the cycle served as a basis for his first and only theater project, which was premiered in the German city of Dessau in 1928.

The stage designs for the production are now being exhibited, in honor of the painter’s 150th birthday, in Kandinsky’s former residence in Dessau.

Wassily Kandinsky was out to create a synthetic “Gesamtkunstwerk.” For him, that meant that sounds took on hues that listeners could see before their eyes as they listened to the music. It was intended to be a Gesamtkustwerk of sound, color and motion.

“Worldwide, only two series remain from the stage designs – one in Centre Pompidou in Paris and the other in a theater studies collection at the University of Cologne,” said Harald Wetzel, organizer of the exhibition at the Dessau Masters’ Houses. Included in the exhibition are images from the Cologne collection.

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The home of a Bauhaus artist

Wassily Kandinsky lived and worked in Dessau from 1925 to 1932 as a master with the Bauhaus school of art and design. Those were his most productive years. Over 500 painters and watercolors were created in his studio in the masters’ settlement.

The so-called masters’ houses were designed for the Bauhaus teachers – by none other than architect and Bauhaus director Walter Gropius himself. In 1926, the artistic movement relocated from Weimar to Dessau and spent just a year and a half erecting a college building and the masters’ houses.

A foundation for the Dessau Masters’ Houses takes care of preserving the four houses, a unique architectural ensemble of great historical value. They have since been restored to their original design and color.

The rooms in Kandinsky’s former home usually stand empty – except for the color accents. The artist preferred color on the ceilings, doors and walls, including light green, white, crimson, black and ocher. They are the same colors that Kandinsky integrated into his stage designs, which – along with the geometrical forms – are typical for Bauhaus.

The Hut of Baba Yaga The daily "Anhalter Anzeiger" wrote about the premiere, "A mysterious construction is standing in front of us, a pointer is turning around, colors are flashing up: green and yellow - the lights at the sides are flashing up again: an incredible tension is enticing, and at the same time, torturing the viewer - it's that old secret that, in our imagination, is surrounding witches and magicians."
The Hut of Baba Yaga The daily “Anhalter Anzeiger” wrote about the premiere, “A mysterious construction is standing in front of us, a pointer is turning around, colors are flashing up: green and yellow – the lights at the sides are flashing up again: an incredible tension is enticing, and at the same time, torturing the viewer – it’s that old secret that, in our imagination, is surrounding witches and magicians.”

Musical geometry on stage

In the spring of 1874, composer Modest Mussorgsky saw a retrospective of befriended painter and architect Viktor Hartmann. Included were pictures that Hartmann had taken on a journey to Europe, such as the Great Gate of Kyiv, an Italian palace, and the catacombs of Paris.

Mussorgsky composed “Pictures at an Exhibition” in memory of Hartmann, who had died the previous year. It’s not entirely clear which of Hartmann’s pictures had inspired Mussorgsky the most.

Wassily Kandinsky, however, was fascinated by the music and began to express his impressions in his artwork. “Kandinsky’s task was to turn the music into paintings,” said Harald Wetzel.

For the stage production of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” various geometrical elements were supposed to be pushed onto the stage or pulled off of it. “The exhibited pictures give just a limited impression of the stage production,” explained Wetzel. “The individual elements were constantly in motion.”

While the orchestra played, images came into being on stage – in sync with the music.

Dessau remained the only cite where Kandinsky’s work was performed, although a performance in the US had originally been planned. It wasn’t until the a 1983 festival in Berlin that the work was reconstructed by students from the Berlin University of the Arts, based on a script and the stage designs from the collection at the University of Cologne.

Since then, many versions of Kandinsky’s production have been staged, including multimedia variations with video, which are presented now and then in concert halls and museums from New York to Hong Kong.

Kandinsky’s original stage designs are on display in Dessau through May 22, 2016.

Source: DW

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From Kandinsky to Pollock. The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

The new exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, from 19th March

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Starting in March and running until July 2016, the new exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, From Kandinsky to Pollock. The Art of the Guggenheim Collections, brings over 100 masterpieces of European and American art from the 1920s and the 1960s to Florence in a narrative that reconstructs the relationship and ties between the two sides of the Atlantic through the lives of two leading American collectors, Peggy and Solomon Guggenheim.

Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, the exhibition – the result of a cooperative venture involving the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York – will offer a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the crucial works of European masters of modern art such asMarcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Man Ray and European masters of so-called Art Informel, or “Unformed Art”, such as Alberto Burri, Emilio Vedova, Jean Dubuffet and Lucio Fontana, with large paintings and sculptures by some of the most influential personalities on the American art scene in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Jackson Pollock, Marc Rothko, Wilhelm de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Cy Twombly.

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This exceptional exhibition also celebrates the Guggenheims’ very special tie with the city, because it was precisely in Palazzo Strozzi’s Strozzina undercroft that Peggy Guggenheim, who had only recently arrived in Europe, decided in February 1949 to show the collection that was later to find a permanent home in Venice.

The large paintings, sculptures, engravings and photographs on display at Palazzo Strozzi on loan from the Guggenheim collections in New York and Venice and from other leading international museums, paint a vast fresco of the extraordinarily heady season of 20th century art in which Peggy and Solomon Guggenheim played such a key role. They also tell the fast-paced story of the birth of the Neo-Avant-Garde movements after World War II in a tight and uninterrupted interplay between European and American artists.

Source: Firenze Made In Tuscany