Kandinsky on the color Yellow

December 11, 2009

“Yellow is disquieting to the spectator, pricking him, stimulating him. Yellow can be raised to a pitch of intensity unbearable to the eye and spirit.” Quoting the artist from the book Spiritual in Art is how the audio guide discusses Kandinsky’s Impression III. In case anyone wonders in the future how we came to the decision to have a yellow baby room, I am noting down that it was not from any sense of practicality (yellow’s gender-neutralness), but from our being captivated by this particular oil painting by Vasily Kandinsky.
We saw the Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim on the 21st of October, coincidentally also the museum’s 50th anniversary. The festive spirit of all the visitors standing in line to get in (the line had rounded the block before 11am) certainly helped the tiny bit of anxiety I usually face as I walk in this particular building. We all of course acknowledge Frank Lloyd Wright’s brilliance in designing this 20th century architectural icon, but the physical effort needed to walk up that spiral ramp whilst your brain is processing various works of art has never been a small matter for me.
And this is how I was able to ascertain the impact of Impression III. Considering that the painting was sequenced in the middle of the exhibition, which meant I had already walked up a considerable amount and had seen a number of great works, Impression III’s wide expanse of black on a background of bold yellow woke up my slightly fatigued mind like a jolt of caffeine. I was invigorated enough to muster the strength to finish the walk up to see the rest of the show, instead of deciding to leave the rest for another day.
The work left such an impression (pardon the pun), that we started searching for a book on Kandinsky that would have an image of the painting. Our hunt produced a book by Thomas M. Messer, first published in 1997. I went directly to the page of the book discussing Impression III to read what was written on the work in an attempt to figure out what it was that forcefully caught my attention. It is written that the work’s predecessor, Impression II, was painted in 1911, two days after Kandinsky attended a New Year’s concert in Munich. It would be safe to assume that both works were inspired by Kandinsky’s experience of being at that performance.
Messer writes that the black on the yellow may represent “the artist’s identification of black with negative attributes.” While I do recognize that everyone has a bit of darkness in them, I suspect that my interest has more to do with my obvious attraction to black and gold combos (such as my love for a gorgeous black leather bag with goldtone metal accents, or admiration for all jewelry pieces with gold and onyx). And so despite this possibility of a negative connotation, we are determined to find a print of this particular work that will one day be on the wall of our nursery. A room that will be decorated predominantly in yellow, which will go with the yellow STOKKE we had long ago planned to get for our future babies.
As for the rest of the exhibit, while my interest in seeing Kandinsky at the Guggenheim stemmed from encounters with Abstract Expressionist works at the gallery that gave me my first job in New York City, I left the museum an exhilarated (if a bit tire) fan. I would therefore like to end with some text from the exhibition that may help in the appreciation of the artist’s works.

As identified by Kandinsky, there are three types of paintings designated by their associations with music:
Impressions – based on real life subjects
Improvisations – spontaneous and unconscious images from the artist’s inner life
Compositions – formally developed formats often preceded by many studies.

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