Inventing Abstraction; Abstract Art Exhibition at the MoMA

Inventing Abstraction at the Moma with Malevich Brancusi

We take for granted that a piece of art doesn't have to be of something. In fact, abstract art is such an entrenched part of mainstream culture that it's hard to imagine a time when people wouldn't paint anything that wasn't representing a person, or an object, or a landscape in the real world. It wasn't done, because it didn't occur to anyone to do it.

And then, right around this time a hundred years ago, a light bulb went off, followed by one of the greatest creative explosions the history of art has ever seen. As New York Magazine's Jerry Salz so nicely put it, "Early-twentieth-century abstraction is art’s version of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It’s the idea that changed everything everywhere: quickly, decisively, for good." 

Inventing Abstraction exhibition of MoMa with Russell Morgan. This is his painting called Syncromy Orange Form

MoMa's Abstract Art Exhibition

Inventing Abstraction, the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition that takes up much of sixth floor, offers a wonderful opportunity to witness that explosion in slow motion. This is a big show, with more than 350 works by some 84 abstract painters and sculptors (as well as, to a much lesser degree, poets, composers, choreographers, and filmmakers) from Europe, America and Russia. Though it covers just 15 years, from 1910 to 1925 (a nanosecond in the history of human expression) MoMA's Inventing Abstraction convincingly traces how this radical idea was flirted with, experimented with and then almost, simultaneously across a huge network of artists, fully embraced. Remarkable. 

Inventing Abstraction at the MoMa with Duchamp, painting of Network Stoppages

The Abstract Art of the MoMa

There is much to love at MoMA's Inventing Abstraction exhibition, from Fernand Leger's Discs, below, to Marcel Duchamp's Network of Stoppages, above, to Morgan Russell’s huge Synchromy in Orange: To Form, two above. More than a dozen Mondrians march through one gallery, a series of excellent photographs by both Alvin Coburn and Paul Strand clearly show how the camera could be used as readily as a brush to further the abstract movement, and viewing a bunch of Vasily Kandinsky's work–he has several solid contributions here, including "color studies" (two below) and book illustrations–is always a treat. Our favorite part of the MoMA Inventing Abstraction show, however, has to be the wall of nine, brilliantly stark geometric paintings by Kazimir Malevich (top, behind the Brancusi statue), taken from a 1915 exhibition about which the artist said "I destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped  from the circle of things." 

MoMa exhibition Inventing Abstraction, featuring Fernand Leger's painting called Discs

MoMa's Inventing Abstraction Exhibition

The Inventing Abstraction exhibition will be at the Museum of Modern Art through April 15. MoMA is located on 53rd Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, and is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday until 8:00 p.m., when admission is free after 4:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. For more information about this abstract art exhibition, visit  the MoMA's website.

MoMa's Inventing Abstraction feautring Kandinski's painting

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