Kandinsky retrospective kicks off world tour in Munich

A major retrospective of artworks by Wassily Kandinsky kicks off in Munich on Saturday as part of a world tour almost as peripatetic as the Russian-born modernist artist himself.

Kandinsky retrospective kicks off world tour in Munich
Photo: DPA

Running at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, southern Germany until February 22, the exhibition includes 95 paintings from all the major periods of Kandinksky’s work between 1907 and 1942, from the “Blue Rider” period through to Bauhaus and his final decade in France.

From Munich the retrospective will be on show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris from April to August 2009 before ending its journey at the Guggenheim Museum in New York from September 2009 until January 2010.

The three venues already house the three largest collections of works by Kandinsky, one of abstract painting’s founding fathers, and this is the first time ever that all three collections have been brought together in one show.

“Visitors will be able to see Kandinsky’s revolutionary development toward radically new forms of art unfold before their eyes,” organisers promise. “There is no doubt that Kandinsky is one of the last great utopian avant-garde artists and a key figure in modernist art.”

Kandinsky was born in December 1866 to a wealthy Moscow family and his life looked set to follow a conventional path with studies in law and economics and a post as assistant lecturer at Moscow’s law faculty from 1893.

But three years later Kandinsky moved to Munich to study painting, travelling around Europe and north Africa and painting in the Alps before co-forming the “Blauer Reiter” (“Blue Rider”) group together with Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter and others in 1911.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Kandinsky moved first to Switzerland and then back to his native Moscow. Following the Russian revolution in 1917 he remained in Russia but in 1922 returned to Germany. Back in Germany Kandinsky was appointed to the Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, taking a job teaching mural painting alongside other artists like Paul Klee and Johannes Itten.

In 1929 he became a German citizen – one of three different nationalities he held during his life along with Russian and French – but the rise to power of the Nazis and their closure of the “degenerate” Bauhaus in 1933 forced Kandinsky to move to France.

Paris saw the third and final phase of his career and despite the war and the German occupation his works came to light in small exhibitions. In 1939 he became a French citizen and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine outside Paris in 1944.

According to Alfred Pacquement, director of the Pompidou Centre, it was thanks to Kandinsky’s widow Nina, his second wife whom he married in 1917 when he was 51 and she was 20, that it acquired such a large collection.

“Kandinsky spent the last 10 years of his life in Paris and from all his work his Paris period was one of the most important, and the last,” Pacquement told AFP. “His widow Nina remained in Paris … the Pompidou Centre opened in 1977 and the year before Nina Kandinsky made a gift of around 30 works that form the core of our collection.”

And when she died in 1980 – murdered at 84 in her chalet in a Swiss ski resort – she left the remainder to the Paris venue.

Works donated by the other woman in his life, Münter, with whom Kandinsky travelled extensively and who owned a house in the foothills of the Alps where they both painted before World War I, form the core of the Lenbachhaus’s collection.


German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

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‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

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Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.


Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page