Commentary on Kreis, Circle with brown (Kreis (Mit bruan))
Vassily Kandinsky produced Kreis (mit Braun) (Circle (with Brown)) at the Bauhaus in Dessau during his stay there as a professor. His contact with the panorama in Germany dated back to the final years of the 19th Century, when after having resigned from his activity as a lawyer in Moscow, he relocated in Munich in order to dedicate himself to painting. In 1911 he played a decisive role in the creation of the Der Blaue Reiter group, a Munich-based avant-garde group that generated a framework of exhibitions and publications involving new painting under his and Franz Marc’s leadership. In the almanac published by the group, Kandinsky articulated the artistic theories that he would publish in 1912 as Über das Geistige in der Kunst: Insbesondere in der Malerei (Concerning the Spiritual in Art: Especially in Painting) (1). His works from the first decade of the 20th Century are landscapes and urban views where, although a correlation with reality does exist, its formal simplification and a relative chromatic liberty taken with the things represented are also visible. From 1910 on, Kandinsky undertook increasingly autonomous pictorial investigations into figurative references, which led to the development of abstraction. This search became a key milestone for a great number of other visual experiences throughout the entire 20th Century. Kandinsky was unquestionably a pioneer in different manifestations of abstraction. His works from the decade of 1910 (his Improvisations, Compositions and Impressions series) generally involve free formal articulations with intense chromatic aspects, without any pre-established compositional structure. When the First World War broke out he returned to his native Russia, where he remained until the end of 1921. Beginning in 1918, he actively dedicated himself to reorganizing social and cultural life in Russia as a member of the Fine Arts Department (IZO), professor at the Vkhutemas (Higher Art and Technical Institute), founder and Director of the Museum of Artistic Culture and author of the initial program for the Inkhuk (Institute of Artistic Culture). While at the outset there were fluid ties with artists from productivist groups, debates in the post-revolutionary context regarding artists’ place in the new society provoked splits and obliged the taking of sides. The line of Russian productivism sustained by the LEF group acquired a hegemonic position. In 1921, Kandinsky left Inkhuk when his program was rejected (2).In 1922, Walter Gropius invited him to form part of the Bauhaus in Weimar as professor of Mural Painting and he accepted. His teaching activity at this institution was intense: in parallel to the preliminary course, Kandinsky offered an analytical drawing class in which formal constructive principles were studied. During the second semester he taught a course on artistic drawing; he also gave seminars on color, and beginning in 1928, open painting classes jointly with Paul Klee (3). As a result of this intense educational activity, Punkt und Linie zu Flache (Point and Line to Plane) a book published by Bauhaus editions, appeared in 1926. Kandinsky proposed this essay as a continuation of the principles set forth in Über das Geistige in der Kunst. For the most part, Kandinsky’s paintings from the 20s are typically done on small format cardboard supports. Color is confined in specific areas and simple, precise forms contrast against the uniform support (4). The differences between his work from the first two decades of the 20th Century and his work from the 20s onward are quite evident. Kandinsky’s style during his time at the Bauhaus presents a change in the emphasis given to intuitive expression as opposed to rational construction (5). A close connection can be found between his works from the Bauhaus period and his theoretical production. The circle is an element he uses profusely in his painting during the late 20s and early 30s. This is the case for both Einige Kreise (Several Circles, 1926, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) and Kreis (mit Braun), patrimony of the MNBA. Kandinsky articulates the particularities of this figure in Punkt und Linie zu Flache: “the developing curve will sooner or later arrive again at its starting point. Beginning and end flow into each other and in the same instant disappear without a trace. The most unstable and, at the same time most stable of planes is created: the circle. […] the simplicity as well as the complexity result from the absence of angles. […] There are only four points which retain the decided sound of the four sides” (6). Evidently, his interest in this figure resided in its capacity to synthesize a reconciliation of opposites; the circle involved a mystical re-elaboration of antagonisms (beginning-end, stability-instability, concentric-eccentric). In Kreis (mit Braun), the circle is a central element of the composition on account of its size and location on the surface. In this work, Kandinsky also utilized other geometric elements that he had analyzed in Punkt und Linie zu Flache. Kandinsky considered the triangle to be the circle’s antagonistic plane, given that “complete absence of the straight and the angular on the one hand, and on the other hand, three straight lines with three angles—these are the signs of the two primary planes which stand in the greatest contrast to each another” (7). It is interesting to observe that the chromatic-formal correspondence that Kandinsky established situated yellow paired to the triangle and blue with the circle. “Sharp colors sound stronger in sharp forms (for example, yellow in a triangle). Those inclined to be deep are intensified by round forms (for example blue in a circle)” (8). In Kreis (mit Braun), Kandinsky worked according to the functions of these oppositions and correspondences, but also with the inclusion of red as a mediating element between yellow and blue. Orange and violet, then, are the primary chromatic elements in this piece. For Kandinsky, these choices are quite evidently not random, but based on an analytic and sensory search to define the relationships between form and color.
by María Amalia García
1— Thomas M. Messer, “Introduction” in: Kandinsky at the Guggenheim. New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1983, p. 9-17.
2— Christina Lodder, El constructivismo ruso. Madrid, Alianza, 1988, p. 82-83.
3— The Collection. Berlin, Bauhaus Archives, 1999, p. 56-61.
4— Vivian Endicott Barnett, “The essential Unity of Kandinsky’s Pictorial Modes” in: Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, op. cit., 1983, p. 19-55.
5— Thomas M. Messer, “Introduction”, op. cit.
6— Vassily Kandinsky, Punto y línea sobre el plano. Contribución al análisis de los elementos pictóricos. Buenos Aires, Paidós, 2007 , p. 72, 128.
7— Ibid, p. 73.
8— Vassily Kandinsky, De lo espiritual en el arte. Buenos Aires, Nueva Visión, 1957 , p. 49.
1958. GROHMANN, Will, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work. New York, Harry N. Abrams, nº 304, reprod. p. 374.
1984. ROETHEL, Hans K. y Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings 1916-1944. London, The Blue Rider Research Trust/Cornell University Press, nº 892, reprod. p. 820. 2001. GIUNTA, Andrea, Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política. Arte argentino en los años sesenta. Buenos Aires, Paidós, p. 134.