Paul Klee – Making Visible at Tate Modern

15 March 2014 § Leave a comment

“I want to be as though new born, knowing nothing about Europe, nothing, no pictures, entirely without impulses, almost in an original state”. Paul Klee 1902.

Klee was one of the last century’s deepest thinkers about artistic theory, the above early diary entry perhaps presenting his initial starting point. Anybody who has tried to read – or rather ‘plough through’ – any of his writings will know how much complex thought he has invested in to his art.

paul-klee-park-near-lu

I here say ‘plough through’ advisedly since his writings are more like complex scientific text books that essays on art thinking. Illustrated with innumerable diagrams, sketches and graphs they present new ways of thinking about the creation of art, largely developed during his periods of Bauhaus teaching.

Greeting 1922 Paul Klee

His Pedagogical Sketchbook for example begins with thirty pages of closely reasoned text on the significance of ‘the dot’ before apologising for brevity and moving on to ‘the line’. The published ‘notebooks’ of his thoughts and writings whilst at the Bauhaus exceed a thousand pages and feature headings like ‘The concept of analysis’ and ‘Corporeo-spatial tensions’. Every aspect of image making is pored over, analysed and scientifically dissected.

Paul Klee Tate Modern, London

One might think that somebody who analyses art so deeply would be far too ‘bogged down’ in theory that they would find it all but impossible to produce any appealing art. Surprisingly though this show at the Tate proves the opposite. This deep thinking stimulated him into production of a wide variety of interesting work within relatively short time bands.

paul-klee-crop

The Tate’s chronological approach successfully shows the twists and turns of his style as well as his great early confidence. From the start, despite unfavourable reviews from his first solo show, he was already precisely numbering and cataloguing each work. A Constructivist period leads in to his time with the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group, where the influence of Kandinsky is strongly visible. Cezanne, Bracque, Picasso, Matisse and especially Delaunay were further influences before Klee threw himself in to a decade of teaching at the Bauhaus.

Klee - They're Biting 1920

The exhibition repeatedly surprises as successive rooms show the depth of his talent. Oil, watercolour or oil-transfer are given equal prominence and plenty of space to shine. An early realisation that there is much more to Klee than you thought you knew leads to an acceptance that this really is a master of modern art. Repeated innovation, prodigious in production and immensely talented a relatively early death in 1940 surely deprived the world of much, much more.

Paul Klee Making Visible is at Tate Modern until 9 March 2014

rush to the ballets russes

4 January 2011 § Leave a comment

If you haven’t yet made a beeline for the ballet you must do so right away! Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes – the current blockbuster at the V&A – closes this Sunday 9 January 2011.

Even if, like me, you have little specific interest in the ballet this is a marvellous exhibition that explores the world of the influential artistic director Serge Diaghilev and the most exciting dance company of the 20th century, the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev imaginatively combined dance, music and art to create ‘total theatre’. A consummate collaborator, he worked with many of the greatest artistic talents of the day; people like Stravinsky, Chanel, Picasso, Matisse and Nijinsky. There are, for example, amazing Russian ‘suprematist’ costumes from Leon Bakst, fascinating artwork from the likes of Bracque and Matisse  plus vast theatre backdrops from Picasso and Gontcharova.  A brilliant Wyndham Lewis oil even manages to find its way in to the mix.

Diaghilev’s dramatic performances transformed dance, reawakening interest in ballet across Europe and America. Celebrating the company’s key period of activity, this major exhibition reveals Diaghilev’s enduring  influence on 20th-century art, design and fashion and includes more than 300 objects including giant theatre cloths, original costumes, set designs, props and posters by artists and designers. These tell the story of a company which began in the social and political upheaval of pre-Revolutionary Russia and went on to cause a sensation with exotic performances that had never been seen before.

The whole is interspersed with informative mini-lectures, archive film and stirring music from the likes of Wagner (no, the real one) and Stravinsky. All very educational – you never know, I might even break the habit of a lifetime and try a ballet at Covent Garden!

Full details at the V&A website.

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