I travelled to Paris in 1984, on my first trip to Europe, to present a paper at an international symposium on urbanism.
My plane landed at dawn. After clearing customs, I took a train of the RER, the light railway system for Paris, to the neighborhood where I would be staying.
I asked several individuals for directions to rue Joseph Barra. Nobody knew where it was, but they taught me to pronounce the street name correctly.
The children of the family with whom I was staying found me. They guided me to their apartment, and after a brief visit, I washed my face and I went out to look at Paris. I walked to the Seine. Tears ran down my cheeks as I stood there with images of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon drifting across the October morning sky.
During the week of the conference, I spent most of my free time wearing holes in the soles of my shoes as I walked around in the Left Bank neighborhood of my hosts.
Paris was not the center of Modern Art between the last decade of the 19th Century and the end of the First World War.
I graduated from Berkeley in 1968. I believed Paris to be the center of it all. I did not have a clue about the twenty years or so when the European art world included almost everyone.
If I had I read Peter Selz’s German Expressionist Painting, in 1963 instead of in 2023, I would have learned that the two decades between 1890 and the end of World War I was a time of extensive interaction and collaboration among artists from throughout Europe and beyond, with numerous exhibits showing their work. The catalog of one of those shows, the international exhibition of the Sonderbund, in Cologne, 1912, prompted the Armory Show, in New York in 1913, which introduced America to modern art.
When the war ended, the USSR supported modern art until 1934, when the party line switched from Modernism to Socialist Realism. In Germany, Expressionism gained popular acceptance as it lost its revolutionary edge. In 1937 the Nazis replaced Expressionism with kitsch artwork. Expressionists continued to work, but many joined the growing exodus from central Europe occurring toward the end of the 1930’s.
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Punkt und Linie zu Fläche, Point and Line to Plane
The book contains numerous detailed written descriptions, and diagrams of points, lines, and angles; various curvilinear lines and shapes; descriptions and illustrations of combinations of points, lines, angles, curved lines, and shapes; and it also contains detailed drawings of painting motifs. There are descriptions and diagrams of the“structures” of paintings, including the “linear structure” of Little Dream in Red, the cover illustration for the book.
Kandinsky’s objective was, “. . . to point the way to establish certain analytical methods and, at the same time, to take synthetic values into account.” The first edition was published in 1926.
Kandinsky left Berlin in 1933 and settled in Paris in 1934, where he continued to paint until his death on December 13, 1944.
Following the end of World War II, the international art market shifted from Paris to New York. This was due in part, to hostility towards the art of the Soviet Union, and also hostility towards the art of the Federal Republic of Germany. The hostility was further compounded by the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, which had its own version of socialist art.
Subsequently little attention was paid to European art produced east of Paris.
Linear structure of the picture “Little Dream in Red” (1925)
At an early age, I was aware of Ravel, Debussy, Honegger, and other Impressionist composers. I found their music engaging, and not as stuffy and predictable as the classical music I’d listened to throughout my childhood. I think I was, in a sense, primed for Satie’s music by Debussy’s Syrinx, which was, for a while, the theme music for the Sunday afternoon culturally enriching television program, Omnibus.
Satie’s music is not burdened by the sweetness characteristic of much of the music of the other composers who were his contemporaries. It reminded me of the West Coast jazz I was also listening to at the time. Satie’s music, especially as played by Aldo Ciccolini, was Modern.
I am still moved by Satie’s music more than half a century after I first heard it. The musician’s residence is one of the places I like to stroll past when I visit Paris.
With many exceptions, much of the classical repertoire which I have listened to since childhood seems tired and is not as engaging as I formerly found it.
Odette is a few steps from Shakespeare and Company. The shop formerly sold only round baseball sized creme puffs. I try to limit my consumption to no more than two per day.
Odette has become, according to Google, a “chic stop for elaborate cream puffs, pastries & wine, plus Notre Dame views from outdoor tables.”