Expressionists / Yoko Ono

4 July 2024

Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and the Blue Rider

Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind

Tate Modern.

By William Morton

The Blue Rider group of artists was active in Munich in the years before the First World War. They developed a distinctive style of painting with vibrant colours and simplicity of form with no attempt at realism. The Group believed that the arts should come together, was keenly interested in music and its interaction with painting and saw itself as international.

Its best-known member is Wassily Kandinsky. His paintings are always striking with their element of other worldliness but perhaps easier to enjoy when there is something to latch on to as in Lady in Moscow where she floats above the street looked down on by what looks like a priest or in his The Cow where parts of the animal can be made out. Harder to fathom is Impression III (Concert) painted in response to a Schönberg concert.

A highlight of the Exhibition is the work of Kandinsky’s partner, Gabriele Münter. Her paintings show an extraordinary ability to convey human interaction with abstract figures. In her picture of Group members, the painters, Alexei Jawlensky and Marianne  Werefkin, they are clearly pensive as sitting and lying on the grass, they look at the view. Again, in Kandinsky and Erma Bossi at the Table in the Murnau House, Bossi’s concentration on Kandinsky is obvious and verges on hero-worship. Murnau is a small town on the edge of the Bavarian Alps where Kandinsky and Münter had a house and other members of the Group lived in the vicinity. There are a number of appealing pictures by Münter in the Exhibition of the town and the surrounding area.

Of less general interest is the space devoted to her photographs of trips to the USA and Tunisia, although it is notable that she was so keen on photography in its early days.

Paul Klee was another member of the Group, although less central, and is represented in the Exhibition by two interesting and typically cryptic paintings. He and another member of the Group, August Macke, visited Tunisia in 1914, a trip which greatly influenced him.

Along with Kandinky, Franz Marc was a key member of the Group. His colourful paintings of horses and other animals are typified by the mean-looking Tiger used to advertise the Exhibition. His wife, Maria Franck-Marc’s Girl with Toddler is classic example of Expressionism in showing feeling with vibrant colours and unrealistic figures.

The First World War broke up the Group. Kandinsky went back to Russia. Macke was killed in 1914 and Marc in 1916.

An interesting Exhibition with some great paintings.


Being at Tate Modern, it seemed churlish not to look at the Yoko Ono Exhibition, although with no great desire to do so. One knows enough about her to have a suspicion of what to expect and it met that expectation with a film, Cut Piece, of her having her clothes cut off and another, Film No.4, of people’s bottoms and all white chess boards. So, what’s it all about? In her own words:

 ‘The only sound that exists to me is the music of the mind. My works are to induce the music of the mind in people’.

That is borne out by the Exhibition. Ono is a performance artist with an overwhelming wish to involve people in her work. Add Colour (Refugee Boat) is a boat in a room, both originally white, where you are encouraged to write comments in blue on them about the refugee crisis. The final work in the Exhibition. My Mommy is Beautiful, inspired by photos of breasts and a vagina, visitors are invited to write their thoughts about their mother on a slip of paper and pin it to the wall and many have. Most of them were the sort of grateful tributes you would expect, although one had words to the effect of ‘Glad you are gone’.

Ono is an intentional stirrer. The question is how much of her work will endure when she is no longer around to stir.

Cover page image: Gabriele Munter Jawlensky and Werefkin 1909 Lenbachhaus  Munich © 2024.

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