Kandinsky described Klänge (Sounds) as a "musical album." The woodcuts, prose poems, and typography merge and complement one another in a symphonic synthesis, and the horse and rider, Kandinsky's symbol for moving beyond representation in art, is a recurring motif throughout. The artist made the fifty-six woodcuts in this book between 1907 and 1912. His experiments during these formative years with flat, reductive woodcut were an important avenue to the expressive abstraction he was then developing in his painting.
Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
Kandinsky produced this book of poems, Klänge (Sounds), in 1912. He would later describe it as offering a schematic self-history, with poems and images dating from 1907 to 1910: “In the woodcuts and in the rest—woodcuts and poems—one discovers the traces of my development from the ‘figurative’ to the abstract.”
In a prospectus Kandinsky wrote for the publisher of the book, he declared, “I wanted to create nothing but sounds.” Not surprisingly, this ambition stimulated concerns on the publisher’s part, and an agreement to produce the volume was reached only when Kandinsky agreed to take on half the costs. Pairing abstracted woodcuts with thirty-eight prose poems, the artist and author guided his readers to repeat his words until they lost their sense, becoming fusions of sound and image isolated from the usual flow of language. For Kandinsky, poetry served as an important experimental medium for abnegating defined meaning.
Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.
Russian-born painter Vasily Kandinsky's involvement with printmaking extends beyond the more than two hundred prints that he executed during his lifetime, to his work as an organizer, teacher, and art theorist. In 1901 he formed the Phalanx Society in Munich, an art school that sponsored exhibitions and provided a forum for printmaking. Ten years later, he co-founded the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group, which published an important almanac with essays and original prints. His own writings included Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he details his artistic philosophy of the psychology of color and the "inner necessity" of shapes and compositions, and Point and Line to Plane, which includes a description of the formal and sociological attributes of various print mediums.
Although he worked in a Moscow print shop in 1895, Kandinsky did not make his own prints until 1897. Between 1902 and 1904, he completed more than fifty woodcuts, including The Night, Large Version, which is typical of his romantic, fairytale-inspired images of the time. He soon began working on the fifty-six woodcuts for Klänge, which traces the voyage of Saint George and other knights on their search for truth. It contains the artist's own prose poetry and follows the evolution of his artistic style from figuration, inspired by Russian folk culture, to an expressionist abstraction.
Kandinsky's version of abstraction continued to develop in Russia under the influences of Suprematism and Constructivism. The result was a new, more rigidly geometric, abstract vocabulary that he took with him to Weimar in 1922, when he went to teach at the Bauhaus, the famed German art school. While there he made works such as Orange, which continued his exploration of lithography, the technique that he felt was the most modern print medium because of its malleability, ease of artistic execution, and ability to create large and uniform editions.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 84.
Vasily Kandinsky's self-described "musical album," Klänge (Sounds), consists of thirty-eight prose-poems he wrote between 1909 and 1911 and fifty-six woodcuts he began in 1907. In the woodcuts Kandinsky veiled his subject matter, creating increasingly indecipherable images (though the horse and rider, his symbol for overcoming objective representation, runs through as a leitmotif). This process proved crucial for the development of abstraction in his art. Kandinsky said his choice of media sprang from an "inner necessity" for expression: the woodcuts were not merely illustrative, nor were the poems purely verbal descriptions. Kandinsky sought a synthesis of the arts, in which meaning was created through the interaction of, and space between, text and image, sound and meaning, mark and blank space. The experimental typography shows his interest in the physical aspects of the book.
Klänge is one of three major publications by Kandinsky that appeared shortly before World War I, alongside Über die Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) and the Blaue Reiter almanac, which he edited with one of the group's cofounders, Franz Marc. Fearing poor sales, Munich-based Reinhard Piper only reluctantly published Klänge, and Kandinsky had to guarantee the production costs. More than two years after its release, Klänge had sold fewer than 120 copies. The planned Russian version never materialized. The publication was nevertheless influential on other avant-garde artists, and Futurists in Russia and Dadaists in Zurich recited and published some of the poems.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.