spiritualism and nihilism

Chapter 2, Part 2 Spiritualism and Nihilism: The Second Decade

Just as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 made Matisse’s Portrait of Mme Matisse of 1905 seem passé, so Kandinsky’s First Abstract Watercolor of 1910 made Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon seem outmoded.

What was innovative and unique just a few years earlier — the trend-setting last word in advanced art — instantly became an old idea of art, indeed, that fatally ironic thing, a cliché of radicalism. Kandinsky’s First Abstract Watercolor was much more daring and imaginative than Matisse’s bold use of a green gesture to define the line of his wife’s nose — it made her face radiantly fresh — and Picasso’s schematized abstract figures and African masks, with their own peculiar kind of freshness and “greenness.” Both were strident, triumphant invasions of barbarism into high art — the brutal take-over of civilized culture by uncivilized expression. But Kandinsky’s First Abstract Watercolor was not simply another avant-garde shock administered to a reluctant public, another deliberate production of avant-garde difference, another mischievous manipulation of the known: It was an artistic leap into the unknown, inviting the public to a new kind of experience. (Whether made in 1910 or 1913, as some scholars think, it carries Kandinsky’s ideas about art to a consummate extreme.)

more from Donald Kuspit at artnet Magazine here.