[New York Peasant by Wilfrid: January 24, 2012]
There's plenty of time to catch MoMA's current would-be blockbuster, "Inventing Abstraction," which runs through April 15. The crowds aren't too heavy either: many are distracted by the bright, cartoonish baubles of the Tokyo exhibit next door (which served only to remind me that I have no understanding of Japanese art. My bad.)
But walk, don't run. It's hard to say what this exhibit is for. The purpose seems didactic, but there's a problem in the way it's framed.
You need to know already about later Kandinsky, about later Mondrian, about the Abstract Expressionists, about Twombly; you need to know where abstraction is going. But if you know that, you probably already know how it started.
Is this just an excuse to show some minor masterworks from abstraction's early days? Maybe.
Specifically, the half dozen Mondrians which--again, didactically--show his development from figuration to full abstraction, give no hint of his achievements. The Kandinskys, too, are early and barely suggest his mastery of the form. The exercise in cubism from Picasso which opens the show has next to nothing to do with the subject.
On the plus side, a chance to some of the lovely essays in geometry and coloration by Robert Delaunay and his wife Sonia Delaunay-Terk, including her spectacular setting of Blaise Cendrar's seminal poem, "La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France."
There's also one knockout large canvas by Francis Picabia, "The Source," which nails problems of perspective in non-figurative painting, years before Hans Hofmann. Malevich's constructivist designs have authority, of course, but the white backgrounds seem to be more faded and muddy every time I see them.
Stop off at this exhibition before looking for the masterworks of abstraction in the permanent collection.