‘Paul Klee: Art in the Making 1883-1940′

by Matthew Larking

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto

Closes May 15

The American critic Clement Greenberg called the Swiss-born painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) a “small master” owing to his miniature formats. Synonymous with Klee’s increase in scale in the last decade of his life is the perception of his artistic decline.

Smallness was a requisite for goodness, the essence of which is captured in the comparison of two abstract works with similar compositions of gridlike structures in various colors: “Bluhender Baum” (1925) and “Bluhendes” (1935). The intensity of “Bluhender Baum” is dissipated by the larger scale of “Bluhendes,” within which the color wanes. The later work is also precisely delineated, relinquishing the much more raw application of pigment, fuzzy margins and color dissonances.

Viewers rarely ask questions about how art is made because only some share the artist’s interest in technical concerns or choice of materials. And what the artist does in his / her studio is largely invisible to us. “Paul Klee: Art in the Making 1883-1940,” however, is very much concerned with the methods used by the often quietly celebrated modern painter.

The show is based on a list of works that Klee kept from 1911 (the first entry refers to a piece Klee made in 1883, when he was four). He detailed methods employed and also documented working processes with photographs taken in the studio. Of particular interest is the way in which Klee cut up some of his compositions (even modest-size paintings) into fragments, which were then considered as individual works. Exhibits on show include reconstructions of some original compositions.

Another intriguing feature are the works that Klee designated as “Special Class.” These pieces became his models for reflection and subsequent creative activity, and they stand out as extraordinary testament to what he considered most distinctive in his oeuvre.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto is open from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri till 8 p.m.), closed Mon. Admission ¥1,500. For more information, visit www.momak.go.jp