Kandinsky: everything starts at one point, Banco do Brasil Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro

The exhibition “Kandinsky: everything starts at one point”, presents the history and creative universe of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). The exhibition brings together more than a hundred works and objects by the artist, his contemporaries and his influences. They are paintings, photos, books and letters from Russian and contemporary artists. On display are works that are part of the collection of museums, such as the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg, and works from Germany, Austria, England and France.

The diverse collection is based on the collection of the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg, enriched with works from seven more museums in Russia and collections from Germany, Austria, England and France. The exhibition provides a real dive into the roots of the creative universe of what is considered one of the precursors of abstractionism.

The exhibition takes visitors to discover not only Kandinsky’s main works, but also his influences and the relationship with other artists; all of this organized in five blocks: “Kandinsky and the roots of his work in relation to popular culture and Russian folklore”, “Kandinsky and the spiritual universe of shamanism in Northern Russia”, “Kandinsky in Germany and the experiences in the group Der Blaue Reiter, life in Murnau “,” Dialogue between music and painting: the friendship between Kandinsky and Schonberg “and” Paths opened by abstraction: Kandinsky and his contemporaries “.

This exhibition presents the prologue to this enriched history, which is modern and contemporary art. The way in which the transition to abstraction was forged, the resources from which figuration is no longer the only possible way to represent the most vital states of the human being, and finally the new path opened up from this rupture.

More than presenting works by the Russian painter, “Kandinsky – Everything starts at one point” offers the public the opportunity to get to know the references of his work, such as the relationship between art and spirituality, popular culture in northern Siberia, Russian folklore, music and shamanic rituals.

In the exhibition, there are paintings from all phases of the painter, illustrations from folk tales, religious symbols, series of landscapes, clothes and drums used in shamanic rituals, collections of ceramic objects and lithographs. In addition to Kandinsky, the show features paintings by contemporary artists, such as ex-wife Gabriele Münter, Alexej Von Jawlensky, Mikhail Larionov, Pavel Filonov, Nikolai Kulbin and Aristarkh Lentulov.

The pieces on display are divided into three spaces, one interactive. Using special glasses, the public can check one of the painter’s works, breaking up according to the visitor’s movement and emitting sounds. It is also possible to hear the description of the colors and their characteristics.

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (16 December 1866 – 13 December 1944) was a Russian painter and art theorist. Kandinsky is generally credited as the pioneer of abstract art. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa (today Ukraine), where he graduated at Grekov Odessa Art school. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession—he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia)—Kandinsky began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

In 1896, Kandinsky settled in Munich, studying first at Anton Ažbe’s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Moscow in 1914, after the outbreak of World War I. Following the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky “became an insider in the cultural administration of Anatoly Lunacharsky” and helped establish the Museum of the Culture of Painting. However, by then “his spiritual outlook… was foreign to the argumentative materialism of Soviet society”, and opportunities beckoned in Germany, to which he returned in 1920. There he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art. He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.

Conception of art
Writing that “music is the ultimate teacher,” Kandinsky embarked upon the first seven of his ten Compositions. The first three survive only in black-and-white photographs taken by fellow artist and friend Gabriele Münter. While studies, sketches, and improvisations exist (particularly of Composition II), a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky’s first three Compositions. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit “Degenerate Art”, and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc and other modern artists).

Fascinated by Christian eschatology and the perception of a coming New Age, a common theme among Kandinsky’s first seven Compositions is the apocalypse (the end of the world as we know it). Writing of the “artist as prophet” in his book, Concerning the Spiritual In Art, Kandinsky created paintings in the years immediately preceding World War I showing a coming cataclysm which would alter individual and social reality. Having a devout belief in Orthodox Christianity, Kandinsky drew upon the biblical stories of Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the whale, Christ’s resurrection, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the book of Revelation, Russian folktales and the common mythological experiences of death and rebirth. Never attempting to picture any one of these stories as a narrative, he used their veiled imagery as symbols of the archetypes of death–rebirth and destruction–creation he felt were imminent in the pre-World War I world.

As he stated in Concerning the Spiritual In Art (see below), Kandinsky felt that an authentic artist creating art from “an internal necessity” inhabits the tip of an upward-moving pyramid. This progressing pyramid is penetrating and proceeding into the future. What was odd or inconceivable yesterday is commonplace today; what is avant garde today (and understood only by the few) is common knowledge tomorrow. The modern artist–prophet stands alone at the apex of the pyramid, making new discoveries and ushering in tomorrow’s reality. Kandinsky was aware of recent scientific developments and the advances of modern artists who had contributed to radically new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

Composition IV and later paintings are primarily concerned with evoking a spiritual resonance in viewer and artist. As in his painting of the apocalypse by water (Composition VI), Kandinsky puts the viewer in the situation of experiencing these epic myths by translating them into contemporary terms (with a sense of desperation, flurry, urgency, and confusion). This spiritual communion of viewer-painting-artist/prophet may be described within the limits of words and images.

Artistic and spiritual theorist
As the Der Blaue Reiter Almanac essays and theorising with composer Arnold Schoenberg indicate, Kandinsky also expressed the communion between artist and viewer as being available to both the senses and the mind (synesthesia). Hearing tones and chords as he painted, Kandinsky theorised that (for example), yellow is the colour of middle C on a brassy trumpet; black is the colour of closure, and the end of things; and that combinations of colours produce vibrational frequencies, akin to chords played on a piano. In 1871 the young Kandinsky learned to play the piano and cello.

Kandinsky also developed a theory of geometric figures and their relationships—claiming, for example, that the circle is the most peaceful shape and represents the human soul. These theories are explained in Point and Line to Plane (see below).

Kandinsky’s legendary stage design for a performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” illustrates his synaesthetic concept of a universal correspondence of forms, colors and musical sounds. In 1928 in the theater of Dessau, Wassily Kandinsky realized the stage production of “Pictures at an Exhibition”. In 2015 the original designs of the stage elements were animated with modern video technology and synchronized with the music according to the preparatory notes of Kandinsky and the director’s script of Felix Klee.

During the studies Kandinsky made in preparation for Composition IV, he became exhausted while working on a painting and went for a walk. While he was out, Gabriele Münter tidied his studio and inadvertently turned his canvas on its side. Upon returning and seeing the canvas (but not yet recognizing it) Kandinsky fell to his knees and wept, saying it was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. He had been liberated from attachment to an object. As when he first viewed Monet’s Haystacks, the experience would change his life.

In another episode with Münter during the Bavarian abstract expressionist years, Kandinsky was working on his Composition VI. From nearly six months of study and preparation, he had intended the work to evoke a flood, baptism, destruction, and rebirth simultaneously. After outlining the work on a mural-sized wood panel, he became blocked and could not go on. Münter told him that he was trapped in his intellect and not reaching the true subject of the picture. She suggested he simply repeat the word uberflut (“deluge” or “flood”) and focus on its sound rather than its meaning. Repeating this word like a mantra, Kandinsky painted and completed the monumental work in a three-day span.

Theoretical writings on art
Kandinsky’s analyses on forms and colours result not from simple, arbitrary idea-associations but from the painter’s inner experience. He spent years creating abstract, sensorially rich paintings, working with form and colour, tirelessly observing his own paintings and those of other artists, noting their effects on his sense of colour. This subjective experience is something that anyone can do—not scientific, objective observations but inner, subjective ones, what French philosopher Michel Henry calls “absolute subjectivity” or the “absolute phenomenological life”.

Concerning the spiritual in art
Published in Munich in 1911, Kandinsky’s text, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, defines three types of painting; impressions, improvisations and compositions. While impressions are based on an external reality that serves as a starting point, improvisations and compositions depict images emergent from the unconscious, though composition is developed from a more formal point of view. Kandinsky compares the spiritual life of humanity to a pyramid—the artist has a mission to lead others to the pinnacle with his work. The point of the pyramid is those few, great artists. It is a spiritual pyramid, advancing and ascending slowly even if it sometimes appears immobile. During decadent periods, the soul sinks to the bottom of the pyramid; humanity searches only for external success, ignoring spiritual forces.

Colours on the painter’s palette evoke a double effect: a purely physical effect on the eye which is charmed by the beauty of colours, similar to the joyful impression when we eat a delicacy. This effect can be much deeper, however, causing a vibration of the soul or an “inner resonance”—a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself.

“Inner necessity” is, for Kandinsky, the principle of art and the foundation of forms and the harmony of colours. He defines it as the principle of efficient contact of the form with the human soul. Every form is the delimitation of a surface by another one; it possesses an inner content, the effect it produces on one who looks at it attentively. This inner necessity is the right of the artist to unlimited freedom, but this freedom becomes licence if it is not founded on such a necessity. Art is born from the inner necessity of the artist in an enigmatic, mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject, animated by a spiritual breath.

The obvious properties we can see when we look at an isolated colour and let it act alone, on one side is the warmth or coldness of the colour tone, and on the other side is the clarity or obscurity of that tone. Warmth is a tendency towards yellow, and coldness a tendency towards blue; yellow and blue form the first great, dynamic contrast. Yellow has an eccentric movement and blue a concentric movement; a yellow surface seems to move closer to us, while a blue surface seems to move away. Yellow is a typically terrestrial colour, whose violence can be painful and aggressive. Blue is a celestial colour, evoking a deep calm. The combination of blue and yellow yields total immobility and calm, which is green.

Clarity is a tendency towards white, and obscurity is a tendency towards black. White and black form the second great contrast, which is static. White is a deep, absolute silence, full of possibility. Black is nothingness without possibility, an eternal silence without hope, and corresponds with death. Any other colour resonates strongly on its neighbors. The mixing of white with black leads to gray, which possesses no active force and whose tonality is near that of green. Gray corresponds to immobility without hope; it tends to despair when it becomes dark, regaining little hope when it lightens.

Red is a warm colour, lively and agitated; it is forceful, a movement in itself. Mixed with black it becomes brown, a hard colour. Mixed with yellow, it gains in warmth and becomes orange, which imparts an irradiating movement on its surroundings. When red is mixed with blue it moves away from man to become purple, which is a cool red. Red and green form the third great contrast, and orange and purple the fourth.

Point and Line to Plane
In his writings, published in Munich by Verlag Albert Langen in 1926, Kandinsky analyzed the geometrical elements which make up every painting—the point and the line. He called the physical support and the material surface on which the artist draws or paints the basic plane, or BP. He did not analyze them objectively, but from the point of view of their inner effect on the observer.

A point is a small bit of colour put by the artist on the canvas. It is neither a geometric point nor a mathematical abstraction; it is extension, form and colour. This form can be a square, a triangle, a circle, a star or something more complex. The point is the most concise form but, according to its placement on the basic plane, it will take a different tonality. It can be isolated or resonate with other points or lines.

A line is the product of a force which has been applied in a given direction: the force exerted on the pencil or paintbrush by the artist. The produced linear forms may be of several types: a straight line, which results from a unique force applied in a single direction; an angular line, resulting from the alternation of two forces in different directions, or a curved (or wave-like) line, produced by the effect of two forces acting simultaneously. A plane may be obtained by condensation (from a line rotated around one of its ends). The subjective effect produced by a line depends on its orientation: a horizontal line corresponds with the ground on which man rests and moves; it possesses a dark and cold affective tonality similar to black or blue. A vertical line corresponds with height, and offers no support; it possesses a luminous, warm tonality close to white and yellow. A diagonal possesses a more-or-less warm (or cold) tonality, according to its inclination toward the horizontal or the vertical.

A force which deploys itself, without obstacle, as the one which produces a straight line corresponds with lyricism; several forces which confront (or annoy) each other form a drama. The angle formed by the angular line also has an inner sonority which is warm and close to yellow for an acute angle (a triangle), cold and similar to blue for an obtuse angle (a circle), and similar to red for a right angle (a square).

The basic plane is, in general, rectangular or square. therefore, it is composed of horizontal and vertical lines which delimit it and define it as an autonomous entity which supports the painting, communicating its affective tonality. This tonality is determined by the relative importance of horizontal and vertical lines: the horizontals giving a calm, cold tonality to the basic plane while the verticals impart a calm, warm tonality. The artist intuits the inner effect of the canvas format and dimensions, which he chooses according to the tonality he wants to give to his work. Kandinsky considered the basic plane a living being, which the artist “fertilises” and feels “breathing”.

Each part of the basic plane possesses an affective colouration; this influences the tonality of the pictorial elements which will be drawn on it, and contributes to the richness of the composition resulting from their juxtaposition on the canvas. The above of the basic plane corresponds with looseness and to lightness, while the below evokes condensation and heaviness. The painter’s job is to listen and know these effects to produce paintings which are not just the effect of a random process, but the fruit of authentic work and the result of an effort towards inner beauty.

This book contains many photographic examples and drawing from Kandinsky’s works which offer the demonstration of its theoretical observations, and which allow the reader to reproduce in him the inner obviousness provided that he takes the time to look at those pictures with care, that he let them acting on its own sensibility and that he let vibrating the sensible and spiritual strings of his soul.

The Exhibition
The objective of the show is to make the viewer understand the painter’s life and work and also the relationship with other artists and with the culture of his time. The idea is to understand the context that helped in their formation, to take a plunge into the world that surrounded and influenced Kandinsky.

The selection of the works followed the artist’s biography until his definitive departure from Russia, in 1922, the memories, articles and catalogs of the exhibitions organized during the painter’s life, especially “The Blue Knight” and the “Izdebsky Hall”. Dedicated precisely to the details that explain and complete our knowledge about Kandinsky

To understanding the creative genius implies understanding the sensitivity that marked the history of art in the 20th century. This exhibition presents the prologue to this enriched history, which is modern and contemporary art. The way in which the transition to abstraction was forged, the resources from which figuration is no longer the only possible way to represent the most vital states of the human being, and finally the new path that has been explored since this rupture.

The exhibition also portrays Kandinsky as a poetic and lyrical character and addresses moments of discovery along his trajectory. In one of the spaces, the public can also see letters exchanged between the painter and the classical composer Arnold Schoenberg, creator of dodecafonismo – a system of musical organization in which the 12 notes are played without following the scales by tones.

The spiritual character is one of the most striking features of the set of more than 150 works, including paintings, prints and objects, displayed on four floors of the cultural center.

Right at the entrance to the exhibition, the painting São Jorge (1911), in abstract strokes, with the figure of the knight carrying his spear almost unrecognizable. The presence of spiritual elements becomes constant throughout the show.

The Russian painter born in 1866 was influenced by the shamanic rituals of the region and used them as a theme even in less figurative compositions. He was not exactly a shaman practitioner, but he took advantage of the symbology in his works.

Kandinsky was unique in giving graphic expression to feelings like anger and anguish through the color of his pictures,” says Athayde. He managed in abstract brushstrokes to represent the subjective of each person.

Masks, necklaces, boots and other accessories from northern Russian tribes, hung next to the paintings, serve as a cultural reference of the time. Many of these items are painted in some works. Videos help to reconstruct Kandinsky’s trajectory, from childhood in Moscow to training as a lawyer and moving to Germany, where he taught at the famous Bauhaus, an avant-garde design school.

Friends of Kandinsky, like Russian Kazimir Malevich, one of the mentors of suprematism, gain space on the second floor. The Triumph of Heaven is on display (1907). Exposed side by side, Dois Ovais (1919) and Crepuscular (1917) show how important the colors were to the painter. In the first picture, primary colors represent a kind of fishing ritual. In the second, the dark tones give a melancholic air to the composition.

Details like photos, books and posters record Kandinsky’s friendship with the Austrian composer Schoenberg underground. And, as it could not be missing, there is a multimedia installation in which the visitor uses a 3D glasses and a headset to “dive” into one of the most well-known works of the Russian, No Branco (1920), which ends the tour.

Banco do Brasil Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro
The Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil Rio de Janeiro, briefly CCBB Rio de Janeiro or CCBB RJ, it is a cultural center located in the district center, in Zona Central city of Rio de Janeiro. It is part of a network of cultural spaces, called Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, managed and maintained by Banco do Brasil.

The building occupied by CCBB RJ, located at n ° 66 of Rua Primeiro de Março, has a built area of 19,243 m², of which 15,046 m² are occupied by the center. Located on Orla Conde, in front of Largo da Candelária.

The building has the following spaces inside: exhibition rooms on the first and second floors; a cinema room with 110 seats on the ground floor; a room with 53 seats for showing videos on the mezzanine; three rooms for theater shows, one on the ground floor, with 175 seats, and two more on the second floor, one with 158 seats and one without fixed seats, for alternative shows; an auditorium with 90 seats on the fourth floor; and a library on the fifth floor.

According to research published by The Art Newspaper in April 2014, CCBB RJ was considered the 21st most visited art museum in the world, having a total of 2,034,397 visitors in 2013. According to the same website, the exhibition Picasso and Spanish modernity, held at the cultural center, was considered the most visited post-impressionist and modern exhibition in the world in 2015.