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Dance Insider & Arts Voyager editor and publisher Paul Ben-Itzak, who has also written for Reuters, the New York Times, and many others and also publishes the Art Investment News, is looking for work in France, where he lived and worked for 10 years. He is ready to include his magazines in any deal. Interested parties can e-mail Paul.

Arts Voyager Gallery, 1-8: The Big Bang Axiom
Back to the Future with "Inventing Abstraction" at MoMA

Frantisek Kupka, "Localization of Graphic Motifs II," 1912-13. Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 76 3/8" (200 x 194 cm), frame: 78 3/4 x 76 3/8" (200 x 194 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and Gift of Jan and Meda Mladek. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2013 Paul Ben-Itzak

If you think the world only started getting smaller -- and the many worlds of art cross-fertilizing -- with the advent of the Internet, you need to get yourself to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. With "Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925," a pan-media exhibition of 350 paintings, drawings, prints, books, sculptures, photographs, recordings, dances, and more, running through April 15, MoMA returns to its historical and pedagogical roots and, not incidentally, furnishes a much-needed refresher for a 21st century New York art world as evidently rootless as it is profligate, as well as a template for today's would be multi-media hopscotchers, too often content with dilettante dabbling and dipping in their sister art forms.

Were a 350-work strong exhibition presented by, say, France's Pompidou Museum, it would likely be laid out like a buffet, the pure plenitude its own reward, with the extra-visual art examples serving as decoration or adornment, the music providing ambiance, the movies mere interstices and interludes between exhibition rooms. Curated by Leah Dickerman with Masha Chlenova, MoMA's "Inventing Abstraction" attempts to connect the dots, theoretical as well as historical, from painter to painter, nation to nation, composer and choreographer to visual artist, exploring the advent of abstraction as both a historical idea and emerging artistic practice, diagramming how the connections were made. (The term "Abstract Art," writes John Willett in "The Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought," "appears to derive from Wilhelm Worringer's 'Abstraktion und Einfuhlung' (1907), though Vasily Kandinsky's 'Uber das Geistige in der unst' (1912) is the classic exposition from a symbolist, quasi-musical point of view.")

Vasily Kandinsky, "Grosse Auferstehung (Great Resurrection)," from "Klange (Sounds)," late 1912 or 1913. Woodcut from an illustrated book with 56 woodcuts, page: 11 1/16 x 10 7/8" (28.1 x 27.7 cm). Publisher: R. Piper & Co., Munich. Edition: 300. The Museum of Modern Art. The Louis E. Stern Collection. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Robert Gerhar.

Was Vasily Kandinsky one of the fonts of germination for the nascent movement? Yes, but he in turn was influenced and inspired by Arnold Schoenberg, specifically a concert he attended by the Viennese composer and painter in Munich on January 2, 1911. Recognizing the harmony between his paintings and Schoenberg's music, Kandinsky immediately produced several quick sketches of the performance, including "Impressions lll, (Concert)." MoMA doesn't just relate this fact, but demonstrates it by evoking the occasion on March 4 with a concert, "Dissonant Abstraction: Arnold Schoenberg and Morton Feldman," in which alumni and faculty of the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA perform Schoenberg's "Herzgewachse," a vocal miniature written for Vasily Kandinsky's journal The Blue Rider, as well as Feldman's "Three Voices, for solo voice and two prerecorded solo voices," a setting of a poem by Frank O'Hara.

Gino Severini, "Mare = Ballerina (Sea = dancer)," 1913. Tempera and pastel on cardboard, 25 13/16 x 18 ½" (65.5 x 47 cm). Triton Foundation. ©2012 Gino Severini / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy of the Triton Foundation.

Other burgeoning advances in communication also fostered this artistic 'big bang,' beginning with means of transportation which facilitated international fructification, in events like the fabled February 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art at the 69th Regimental Armory in New York (later touring to Boston and Chicago), which offered more than 1,000 works by 300 artists, including Marcel Duchamp. (The Armory Show also attracted Francis Picabia to the United States, thus laying the seeds for his and Duchamp's activity there in Abstract's Dada subset.)

Then there was the nascent film medium. When Frantisek Kupka exhibited two paintings at the 1912 Salon d'Automne in Paris, including the monumental "Morpha, fugue a deux couleurs," Gaumont filmed them for its newsreels, subsequently shown across Europe and in the U.S.. (Among the film footage included in "Inventing Abstraction" is dances by Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman. Wigman's choreography will be conjured live in performances January 30 - February 1 in which Fabian Barba, inspired by Wigman's celebrated first U.S. tour in 1930-31, attempts to evoke the "atmospheric, gestural, and affective qualities" ((as the PR puts it)) of the nine solo dances featured on the tour, using film footage, photographs, hearsay, written records, and subjective interpretation. Dance is also represented, after a fashion, in a drawing by Nijinsky from his 'mad' period which, seen in this context, makes his 'madness' seem prophetic.)

Vaslav Nijinsky, "Untitled. (Arcs and Segments: Planes)," 1918-19. Crayon and pencil on paper, 11 1/4 x 14 9/16" (28 x 37 cm). Collection John Neumeier. ©2012 Collection John Neumeier.

"From the start," says Dickerman, "abstraction was an international phenomenon, as artists and images moved quickly across Eastern and Western Europe and the United States, thanks to innovations in transportation, publishing and developing art forms as well as new relationships that facilitated the movement of ideas across media."

The moving pictures evoked in poetry also influenced painters like Sonia Delaunay-Terk, the developer of 'simultaneous painting,' and a rare copy of whose collaboration with the poet Blaise Cendrars, "La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France," a poem/artwork which physically unfolds like an accordion, recently sold for $350,000 at auction. And the the all-too short-lived poet Apollinaire had an influence on his contemporaries far beyond his simply arranging the 21 poems of his 1915 "Case d'Armons (Artillery-carriage compartment for personal effects)" as calligrammes, in which the form of the poem on the page is part of its content.

Sonia Delaunay-Terk, "Prismes electriques," 1913. Oil on canvas, 22 1⁄16 x 18 1⁄2" (56 x 47 cm). Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass. Gift of Mr Theodore Racoosin. ©2012 L & M Services B.V. The Hague, 20120503. Courtesy: Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Mass..

The core of "Inventing Abstraction" is the pictures. Drawn not just from MoMA's collection, many dating from the museum's 1936 "Cubist and Abstract Art" show (the large chart mapping the web of connections between abstract art's inventors from that exhibition is reproduced here), but also from museum and private collections around the world, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see, in juxtaposition, works by, in addition to those mentioned above, Robert Delaunay (who riffed off jazz, and vice versa), Fernand Léger, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Georgia O'Keeffe (who once stayed up all night to record, through her not-so-abstract lens, the stages of a southwest sunrise), Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove (instrumental in introducing the conception of the abstract into the more literally inclined early 20th century American school), and others.

Robert Delaunay, "Soleil, lune, simultane 1," 1913. Oil on canvas, 26 x 39 3⁄4" (66 x 101 cm). Stedelijk Museum, Amsterda. Courtesy Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Left: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, c. 1922. Gelatin silver print (photogram), 14 15/16 x 10 11/16" (36.3 x 27.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously. ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department. Right: Kazimir Malevich, "Zhivopisnyi realizm mal'chika s rantsem-krasochnye massy v 4-m izmerenii(Painterly realism of a boy with a knapsack color masses in the 4th dimension)," 1915. Oil on canvas, 28 x 17 1/2" (71.1 x 44.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 1935 acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, John Wronn.

Giacomo Balla, "Velocita astratta + rumore (Abstract speed + sound)," 1913-1914. Oil on board, including the artist's original painted frame, 21 1/2 x 30 1/8" (54.5 x 76.5 cm). The Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. ©2012 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome. Photo courtesy of Monadori Portfolio / Electa / Art Resource, NY.

Liubov' Popova, "Zhivopisnaia arkhitektonika (Painterly architectonic)," 1917. Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 38 5/8" (80 x 98 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Philip Johnson Fund. Photo courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, John Wronn.

Morgan Russell, "Synchromy in Orange: To Form," 1913-1914. Oil on canvas, 11'3" x 10'1 1/2" (342.9 x 308.6 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr.. ©2012 Peyton Wright Gallery. Photo courtesy of Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY.

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