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Sounds by Wassily Kandinsky
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Sounds (edition 1981)

by Wassily Kandinsky (Author), Elizabeth R. Napier (Translator)

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Wassily Kandisnsky's Sounds (Klänge), a volume of poems written and illustrated by the Russian artist and pioneer of abstract painting, was originally published in a limited edition in Munich in 1912.  Although it was highly regarded by such artists as Hugo Ball and Jean Arp and acclaimed by the Zurich Dadaists, it remains one of the least known of Kandinsky's major writings.  This is the first complete English translation of Kandinsky's text.  Sounds is one of the earliest, most beautiful examples of a twentieth-century livre d'artiste and a rare instance of a book in which text and illustrations are the work of a single artist.  The poems, alternately narrative and expressive in quality, are witty, simple in structure and vocabulary, and often startling in content.  They repeatedly treat questions of space, color, physical design, and the act of seeing in a world that offers multiple and often contradictory possibilities to the viewer.  The woodcuts range from early Jugendstil-inspired, representational designs to vignettes that are purely abstract in form.   Published in the same year as his Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Sounds sheds a different but equally significant light on Kandinsky's movement toward abstraction--a movement that was to exercise a profound influence on future directions in art.  In addition to the 38 poems and 56 woodcuts, which are arranged as in the original edition, the volume includes an introduction, the German text of the poems, and the artist's chronology.… (more)
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Sounds by Wassily Kandinsky is a reissue of a classic in art history and theory, particularly with regard to abstract art. It also speaks directly to the interplay between different art forms, in this case, poetry and painting (or woodcuts).

This translation is very good. Poetry, especially poetry that plays with words and sounds, can be very difficult to translate. There is no perfect translation but this one does, I think, capture the essence of what each poem is doing, both individually and in concert with the other poems and the images.

From previous experience with an earlier edition of this book I would say that this will appeal to a wide range of readers but within each type of reader there will be a wide range of opinions. I'll try to explain what I mean. Among artists and those interested in art history and theory, many will find this both an inspiring and an eyeopening book. It is this group for whom the book is probably most valuable since it is one of the few cases where the text and the images are the work of the same person. As a transitional work into abstract art, this speaks to both the what and the why behind it. That said, I have known people in this group who simply don't find much of value here. They are in the minority but enough to be worth mentioning. That said, they do grudgingly accept that it is still an essential work for what it does. Among the group of people who simply enjoy art, even those who like Kandinsky, this book is often hit or miss. Between the wordplay and the woodcuts that represent Kandinsky's own transitional period the book sometimes just doesn't appeal to what the person wants. Again, I have found these to be in the minority but significant enough to mention. In other words, like anything that is new (at the time) and tries to straddle lines (of art forms in this case) it won't speak to everyone.

Having said all that, I think this edition will have fewer people who don't find a way into it. That will largely be because of an excellent introduction from Elizabeth R Napier, the translator. She helps the reader to connect both what is happening within each poem as well as how that relates to the artwork. This provides many more avenues into the work, especially for those of us who are not well-versed in the theory of art or poetry.

All in all I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in art, especially abstract art. This will also interest anyone who enjoys the borderland between various art forms. While this speaks primarily to poetry and painting with a nod to music the way of thinking and approaching the border can apply to other such borders. And make no mistake, these are open borders with every side benefiting from the exchange.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | Oct 28, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wassily Kandinskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bailly, Jean-ChristopheForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Formosa, FeliuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garriga, ElisabetTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
González Férriz, RamonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Napier, Elizabeth R.Translator, Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Wassily Kandisnsky's Sounds (Klänge), a volume of poems written and illustrated by the Russian artist and pioneer of abstract painting, was originally published in a limited edition in Munich in 1912.  Although it was highly regarded by such artists as Hugo Ball and Jean Arp and acclaimed by the Zurich Dadaists, it remains one of the least known of Kandinsky's major writings.  This is the first complete English translation of Kandinsky's text.  Sounds is one of the earliest, most beautiful examples of a twentieth-century livre d'artiste and a rare instance of a book in which text and illustrations are the work of a single artist.  The poems, alternately narrative and expressive in quality, are witty, simple in structure and vocabulary, and often startling in content.  They repeatedly treat questions of space, color, physical design, and the act of seeing in a world that offers multiple and often contradictory possibilities to the viewer.  The woodcuts range from early Jugendstil-inspired, representational designs to vignettes that are purely abstract in form.   Published in the same year as his Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Sounds sheds a different but equally significant light on Kandinsky's movement toward abstraction--a movement that was to exercise a profound influence on future directions in art.  In addition to the 38 poems and 56 woodcuts, which are arranged as in the original edition, the volume includes an introduction, the German text of the poems, and the artist's chronology.

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