When visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to explore its new Portraits of Place exhibition recently, I stumbled across an unexpected treasure. In the concurrent exhibition Picture Stories: The Art of Europe and the Americas, hanging quietly on the wall of the Gould Gallery is a painting by Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky. While photography is my major preoccupation, Kandinsky’s painted works have always spoken to me. Photography, as I see it, is strongest when the image exhibits an inherent structure and symmetry, which goes a long way to account for my fascination with Kandinsky.
This piece—“Linie-Fleck”—was acquired by the museum as a gift from the Gershwins in 1956. Kandinsky created the painting, which translates to “Line-Spot,” in 1927 while he was firmly entrenched in Germany’s Bauhaus school. In addition to the preliminary painting courses and workshops he taught, Kandinsky also offered classes in analytical drawing and artistic design. As an instructor, he was not rigid in his beliefs surrounding the theory of art, which is ironic given the degree to which his work is now associated with the ethics of the movement.
But more than anything else, what amazed me most about “Linie-Fleck” is that you can wander off State Street and into the museum on a Sunday morning and encounter artwork like this. Here is a masterpiece created by Kandinsky during what was arguably Germany’s most culturally challenging period—and now it serves as an intrinsic part of Santa Barbara’s culture. Be it painting or photography or music, the fact that artwork can transcend both time and place is one of art’s greatest attributes. And, within that characteristic, could there possibly be any greater symmetry? —Brett Leigh Dicks