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About this illustrated book
Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
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.
German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse
March 27–July 11, 2011
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.