More than Kandinsky

A ‘lowbrow’ cinema entertainment complex in the centre of Mestre in the unlikely host of a surprising range of ‘highbrow’ rare paintings and sculptures …

One would assume that between the historic center of Venice – with its internationally renowned museums and art fairs – and Mestre as the firm ground (or “terra ferma”) there is an alarmingly wide chasm. One might almost say a vacuum, between the high-brow cultural scene in the much smaller but more elite Venice D.O.C., who may consider exhibitions either as a trade or as a form of intellectual wrestling, and the low-brow culture on the other side of the lagoon, where people may merely seeking for gross thrills. 

It is to be hoped that fine art will soon be geographically democratized through some less conventional system of art education like the MUVE project, giving rise to a new type of visitor that might be called the middle-brow, who will consider art exhibitions as a source of intellectual and visual enjoyment, equal to a blockbuster movie. The exhibition titled “Kandinsky e le Avantguardie / Kandinsky and the Avant-Gardes” curated by Elisabetta Barisoni for MUVE Mestre (on display from 30 September 2023 till originally 21 February 2023, now extended till 10 April 2023) is successful performing such a task – and that is not a small thing to achieve.

Centro Culturale Candiani, Mestre, photo by courtesy of the author

The full English title of the exhibition reads “KANDINSKY AND THE AVANT-GARDES. Point and line to plane” references so much more than the capital letters of Kandinsky´s household name which dominates the posters and advertising in town. The curator Elisabetta Barisoni did an excellent job in giving Kandinsky an art-historical context and it shows delightfully more than just a few masterpieces of a famous artist lend for the occasion by the Ca’Pesaro. In spite of their wide-reaching differences, writer Virginia Woolf describes the highbrow as intimately reliant on the lowbrow – and this may be specifically true in the ‘opposing unity’ of Venezia-Mestre.

Entrance to the exhibition, 2nd floor, photo by courtesy of the author

The underlying Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia’s MUVE Mestre project aims to promote their  network of local museums with their extensive high-class collections throughout the territory of the Metropolitan City, lagoon and mainland. First established in 2016 in the Centro Culturale Candiani with its first contemporary art laboratory, it not only puts the Musei Civici collections together with one another but also with collections from other institutions, studying and comparing different centuries and movements, techniques and interpretations. Through more than 40 masterpieces – including paintings, works on paper and sculptures – the exhibition recounts the fascinating journey of abstract art from its birth to the present day. Most of the pieces displayed stem from the collections of the Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna di Ca’ Pesaro in Venice, an exceptional example of its kind in Italy, especially with regard to the great international artists of the twentieth century.

Wassily Kandinsky, Three Traingles (1938) tempera drawing, photo by courtesy of the author

Interestingly, free admission and long opening times (Tues-Sun 10am-7pm) give the chance to a notoriously young audience to walk into a proper art exhibition on the second floor when they enter the Blockbuster cinema entrance of the Centro Culturale Candiani on the ground floor, not far away from the main square of Mestre. One does not expect the likes of Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Enrico Prampolini, Jean Arp, Victor Brauner, Joan Mirò, Antoni Tàpies, Yves Tanguy, Luigi Veronesi, Ben Nicholson, Karel Appel, Roberto Matta, Giuseppe Santomaso, Mario Deluigi, Tancredi, Mark Tobey, Emilio Vedova, Mirko Basaldella, Eduardo Chillida. Bruno De Toffoli, Julia Mangold, Luciano Minguzzi and Richard Nonas alongside Kandinsky, to be even more approachable than Top Gun 2: Maverick – but they should.

Young visitors in the exhibition, photo by courtesy of the author

Generation Z may encounter real analogue art in school trips or if they show a rare inclination for it – our digital distractions may be all too powerful to invite for a contemplative stroll following the traces of Wassily Kandinsky´s groundbreaking Abstract art like a series of breadcrumbs laid out in points and lines through the planes of art history. His celebrated book of the same denomination “Point and Line to plane”  (1926) was highly influential and helped unbound painting from the reference of reality for many visual creators. But here, in 21st century Mestre, in an afternoon where no outside light breaks through the contemplation, Bauhaus influences are made tangible through the exposed works, as are Russian Constructivist and Suprematist currents and form a stringent narrative with a bigger scope: this exhibition goes beyond the birth of abstraction and outlines Avant-garde movements between abstraction and Surrealism, Abstract art after the Second World War, positions between Informal non figurative art, lyrical and gestural suggestion as well as sculptural works towards Minimalism.

Wassily Kandinsky, Small Worlds VIII (1922) black & white woodcut

Kandinsky founded the artistic movement “Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) together with Franz Marc and Paul Klee, proposing to renew art and starting from its geometric and organic origins. They formed a certain advance guard, speaking in military terms, identifying artists and writers whose innovations in style, form, and subject-matter challenge the artistic and aesthetic validity of the established forms of art and the literary traditions of their time. In the arts and in literature, the term avant-garde (advance guard and vanguard) identifies a genre of art, an experimental work of art, and the experimental artist who created the work of art, which usually is aesthetically innovative, whilst initially being ideologically unacceptable to the artistic establishment. One may muse what that is in our complex times: what would qualify as “avant-garde”?

Jean Miró, Untitled (1950) watercolour on paper, photo by courtesy of the author

As a stratum of the intelligentsia of a society, avant-garde artists promote progressive and radical politics and advocate for societal reform with and through works of art. Climate activists who glue themselves to masterpiece may fall into that category, even though it may also explain the hovering staff monitoring closely the actions of the innocent young visitors like helicopter parents. I propose, maybe here the display of these works in that space may register as “avant-garde”…

In the essay “The Artist, the Scientist, and the Industrialist” (1825) Benjamin Olinde Rodrigues’s political usage of vanguard identified the moral obligation of artists to “serve as [the] avant-garde” of the people, because “the power of the arts is, indeed, the most immediate and fastest way” to realise social, political, and economic reforms. Moreover, the artistically progressive term avant-garde (advance guard) is compared and contrasted to the artistically reactionary term arrière-garde (rear guard) of artists who oppose the avant-garde as art and as culture. The term and the judgment is disputed in art-historical circles, as any avant-garde hailed as such may turn quickly anachronistic – into a rear guard, simply because time passes. Innovation is a must in our accelerated times. Seeing innovative art practice neatly strung up in an overview one can visit freely is a soothing experience in a world where FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and social media is reigning.

Jean Miró, Interveiw (1950) exhibition view, photo by courtesy of the author

There is another definition of “Avant-gardism” that distinguishes it from “modernism”: Peter Bürger, for example, says avant-gardism rejects the “institution of art” and challenges social and artistic values, and so necessarily involves political, social, and cultural factors. ‘Avant-garde’ may be reflected in this polar arrangement in between popular culture and fine art and the sheer existence of these artworks in that context could be considered ‘beautiful’ and ‘socially innovative’.

If you have the chance, take the time and see it…

Peter Muttcoin
Latest posts by Peter Muttcoin (see all)
Scroll to Top