This will not be a review of Inventing Abstraction at MoMA. This is a reaction and an incomplete one based on three visits so far. I plan to go at least three more. The show is beautiful and maddening. There is art here I love. Some Kandinsky paintings and works on paper I have never had the privilege of seeing in person with the added bonus of Schoenberg piped in over head. Duchamp looks less like the pied piper of Dada and more the vital artist that created and and then dismantled the future of art. Malevich looks fresh and to see more than 2 or three pieces in one place is a rare treat. A recreation of the model for Tatlin’s Monument for the Third International is a reminder of how dangerous architecture could and can be.
It also left me mad. I am mad at the things I never learned, at the art I never saw. It is not regret so much as it is a painful realization that I know far less than I want to know. Artists who I should know were here in droves. I was grateful to see their work. I am excited to find more work by Giacomo Balla, an Italian Futurist whose work I was completely unaware of. From the UK, Vanessa Bell and Helen Saunders struck a cord. Ivan Kliun in the Russian section makes beautiful minimalist forms. A Giacometti confused me and made rethink what he was capable of.
There are so many arguments you could make for the true birth of abstraction and the places and people who get no notice here. Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes is addressing this on his blog, discussing the exclusion of Matisse and Manierre Dawson. The conversation could expand in many directions well beyond the standard European “blood lines” of abstract art. With this show on the same floor as the Tokyo exhibition, MoMA has now taken another stab at “15 Years of Art” in the (fill in the blank _____). Here they have succeeded in creating a great map of one version of The Abstraction narrative. There is so very much to learn.