Musical Ouverture (Violet Wedge), 1919

Kandinsky, the wandering knight @ Mudec, Milano

The new exhibition displayed at MUDEC (Museo delle Culture, or “Museum of Cultures”) in Milan celebrates one of the most talented Russian painters, Wassily Kandinsky, and his native country. 100 years after the Russian Revolution, the exposition explores the deep relationship between the artist and his motherland.

St. George And The Dragon, 1915 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
'St. George And The Dragon', 1915 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate

It must be said, Kandinsky is a long-time favorite of ours. An artist who put everything into his art, somebody who never settled on the quality of his realizations and who always tried to go further, where nobody pushed himself before, can only be a role model for us. The exhibition looks at the formative years of the artist, his progressive dive into abstraction and the connections of his works with Russian folklore.

Kandinsky first paintings have a unique impressionist touch
Kandinsky first paintings have a unique impressionist touch

Son of a tea merchant, Kandinsky born in Moscow in 1866. He will always have a privileged relationship with the Russian capital city, where he spent his first childhood and his university years. The colors of the city, in particular, strongly influenced his artistic production. Oh, we need to get to Moscow!

During his Ph.D. the young Kandinsky made an ethnological expedition in the Vologda region, northwest of Moscow (you don’t want to know the average temperature in January there, trust us!). There, he saw the bright colors typical of the Russian folklore, the dresses, the houses, and the religious icons of the several churches spread in the region.

A final major influence for the young Kandinsky was an exhibition organized in Moscow in 1895 about French impressionists. For the first time, the Russian artist could admire with his own eye the (relatively) recent developments of contemporary art. Thankfully, Kandinsky left an extensive writing production (including an autobiography) so that we can perfectly track what the author felt at that time. Monet, in particular, clicked a switch in Kandinsky’s mind, who will say about one of the paintings on show.

'Moscow I', 1916 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
Moscow I, 1916 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate

“That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I dully felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendor.”

'Haystacks (Sunset)', 1891, © Wikimedia Commons
Haystacks(Sunset), 1891, © Wikimedia Commons

That’s the manifesto of his art! That’s precisely what will let Kandinsky be the first and foremost abstract painter the world has ever seen. Look at the last sentence, “Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendor”. Now link it to the folklore tradition we were talking about before.

Here we get a complete understanding of where the artist took its inspiration from. A fairy tale, powerful and vivid, crossing the border of objective representation to hit the mind of the viewer directly, in the exact same fashion as the Impressionist movement wanted to give “The Impression” of the subject rather than the subject. “Impression du sol levant” it’s not the sun, it’s the hint of a sun the artist uses to hit the feeling of the spectator.

Improvisation of Cold Forms, 1914 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
'Improvisation of Cold Forms', 1914 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate

But to understand Kandinsky’s art, we also need to grab another concept that will be fundamental for the Russian artist: Music. Kandinsky was, in fact, suffering from a particular form of synesthesia where he perceived colors as music. Now, that’s absolutely central to his production. He studied music in his childhood, and now he “felt” music every time he was looking at something brightly colored. Just to give you an example: Mondrian is another favorite artist of ours who experimented with music. The difference between his works and Kandinsky is evident though. The first one “studied” music, the Russian artist “felt” it.

'Musical Ouverture (Violet Wedge)', 1919 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
'Musical Ouverture (Violet Wedge)', 1919 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
Piet Mondrian, 'Broadway Boogie Woogie', 1943 © MoMA
Piet Mondrian, 'Broadway Boogie Woogie', 1943 © MoMA

The exhibition manages to explain these concepts in a very pleasant way, placing music in its halls and projecting colored images on the walls. It’s a crafted reconstruction, we feel it’s a good attempt at exploring the mind of this genius by allowing us mortals to grab a glance of its working.

'White Oval', 1920 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
'White Oval', 1920 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate

On the downside, the exhibition is definitely too short. We appreciate the effort in bringing together rare artworks from a young Kandinsky, but we feel the overall number of artworks is a little bit too small. Another incomprehensible mistake in the organization of the gallery is the last hall, where there are three paintings on a single wall.

The last wall, grey background and dramatic paintings.
The last wall, grey background and dramatic paintings.

The particularity here is that all these works have a dramatic tone, with violent lines coming out from a gray background. It’s a wonderful composition, and we wanted to know much more about these three artworks, but no explanations were to be found. It’s a pity, this gallery could have been much more, but it fell shortly exactly when it should step up.

'Composition 217. Grey Oval', 1917 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate
'Composition 217. Grey Oval', 1917 © Wassily Kandinsky Estate

useful info

When and Where:

15 March – 9 July 2017

@ Mudec

Opening times:

Monday 14.30 – 19.30

Thursday and Saturday 9.30 – 22.30

Tuesday Wednesday Friday Sunday 09.30 – 19.30


Adult €12.00
Concession €10.00

Did you see the exhibition? Which was your favorite artwork?

Passionate about art? Read our reviews about the current exhibitions in London here.