Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kandinsky and the Russian House by Michael Craig

Director Michael Craig of Copernicus Films released a wonderful documentary in 2007 about Wassily Kandinsky's time in Murnau, where the artist developed the jewel-toned color planes and abstract distillations so characteristic of Der Blaue Reiter works. In yesterday's post on his long-time companion, Gabriele Muenter, I spoke about the cottage they shared in Murnau. (While the house is much bigger than a cottage, it is built in that singular Bavarian style, which, to me, indicates a clean, bright, gingerbread substance so characteristic of cottages.) What I did not realize was that it was known to locals as "The Russian House", so designated because of the nationality of its principal male inhabitant. Take a look at a wonderful snippet of Craig's "Kandinsky and the Russian House" here:

Below is another excerpt, which explains Kandinsky's movement away from Russia's post-revolutionary Constructivism and his return to Germany. There, the artist assumes a position at the Bauhaus, where he is able to maintain and further develop his belief that art and color have emotive, even restorative power.

And now, more of what I began writing yesterday. Again, what appears in italics below is my conception of Gabriele Muenter's voice. And while I think that Muenter's relationship with Kandinsky was, in many ways, synergistic, her painting (in the post below) speaks volumes about the nature of their intellectual life together. At a dinner table, she is on a chair positioned outside, allowing her the ability to quickly get up, serve food, clear dishes, etc. Kandinsky sits, protected by the table, on a built-in, high-backed bench, which resembles (even if remotely) a throne. It is Muenter, who leans eagerly forward towards him as he speaks (his gesture is somewhat reminiscent of the teaching poses of religious statues and altarpieces). His body, meanwhile, is a straight line, even wall-like in relation to hers. By comparison, all of her, from body lines to intensity of focus, is pointed towards him. Even her feet seem to reach beyond their natural position in order to be more thoroughly pointed towards him. Her devotion is unmistakable. His is less evident. And so:

Nights, when Franz began to come around, Wassily held forth over the checked table cloth, loudly declaring, "Color is the keyboard, the artist plucks the strings!" We were only engaged then, but lived like husband and wife. I stopped painting earlier and, for them, I made dinners and dispensed drinks. I suppose I fell into the kind of housekeeping I had previously dreaded. I made way for the men and their ideas. I did it willingly because I felt what Wassily said was a certainty. I felt those string myself when I lay orange beside red. I knew this joy of visual music. I thought: here is a prophet; I am lucky to be with him. I did not think: but haven’t you already thought of this yourself, haven’t those words, that expression formed in your own mind? I offered ideas, Wassily frowned; Franz directed his gaze towards the table cloth.

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