, September 2010
For an artist whose influence was so profound, Kandinsky (1866–1944) was in many ways a late bloomer. He did not begin his adult life as an artist; after studying law and economics, he didn’t pursue a career in art until he was 30. Even then, his earlier paintings were frequently pleasant but faintly derivative of his influences like Monet. It wasn’t until 1913 that he pioneered the style that would influence artists for a generation: abstract painting. Using colors and shapes instead of lines, Kandinsky began to make paintings that suggested ideas instead of depicting reality. He wrote a seminal essay, “On the Spiritual in Art,” in which he proposed startling new visual theories. He followed it up with a series of paintings titled “Improvisation,” considered amongst the first abstract works, which helped define a new way for artists in the twentieth century to view painting. For the rest of his artistic career, he helped redefine art for a generation of artists, both as an innovator and as an instructor at Germany’s famous Bauhaus school. By the time of his death in 1944, he was considered one of the most important artists of his time and his influence resonates to this day...You’ll get in-depth views of some of his most famous works, including “The Blue Rider,” several of the “Improvisation” series, and “With Black Arch,” the painting pictured on the front cover of the DVD. The documentary also gives a good summary of Kandinsky’s years at the Bauhaus, where he was a respected and influential instructor until the Nazis came to power and forced the school to disband...the documentary does do an excellent job of summarizing how notable events, such as World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of Nazi Germany, affected Kandinsky’s work. It also provides a welcome reappraisal of Kandinsky’s later paintings done in Paris in the last years of his life. Dismissed as lightweight imitations of his earlier and bolder work, the documentary argues convincingly that they are accurate reflections of Kandinsky’s emotional state. In his twilight years, in fading health and trapped in Nazi-occupied Paris, Kandinsky decided to forgo audacious experimentation in favor of taking pleasure in the sheer joy of simple self-expression. At least, as an artistic and professional assessment, this documentary is worth watching...there’s no denying the skill with which [Labarthe] presents and examines Kandinsky’s art.