Abstraction

“Abstract art—painting and sculpture that makes no direct, immediately discernible reference to recognizable objects—was born of an alliance of modernist aesthetics and the occult doctrines of theosophy in the second decade of the twentieth century. Its first masterworks were produced by Vasily Kandinsky in Germany, Piet Mondrian in the Netherlands, and Kazimir Malevich in Russia. Yet no sooner was this new artistic convention established as an influence on the European avant-garde than it was quickly appropriated by still another mode of thought—utopianism—which similarly rejected commonly held conceptions of ‘reality’ in the name of a visionary ideal. This utopian ideal, while no less mystical in some respects than that of theosophy, nonetheless differed from it in locating the realm of future perfection in the material world. Toward the material world utopian ideology adopted an attitude as radical—and, in fact, as otherworldly—as any to be found in occult doctrine, but it did not question the existence of the material world. Its goal was to change it—to eliminate its imperfections in order to establish an ideal harmony, at once social and spiritual, in every sphere of earthly human endeavor.” — Abstraction & Utopia by Hilton Kramer, in The New Criterion, September 1997.

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