Kunstmuseum Basel releases 'Charmion von Wiegand: Expanding Modernism'

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Kunstmuseum Basel releases 'Charmion von Wiegand: Expanding Modernism'
Transparent Cover: Charmion von Wiegand (1896–1983), The Terrace of Jade, 1952, oil on canvas, 22 x 12 inches; Seattle Art Museum.

BASEL.- Michael Rosenfeld Gallery announced the release of the publication Charmion von Wiegand: Expanding Modernism, produced by the Kunstmuseum Basel (Hardcover/160 pages/ISBN: 978-3-7913-5975-5). Published by Prestel Publishing, this beautifully illustrated monograph accompanies the first major retrospective of Charmion von Wiegand (1896–1983) in Europe, which will open at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2023. Curated by Maja Wismer, Head of Contemporary Art, the exhibition will feature an extensive selection of von Wiegand’s paintings and collages dating from 1930 to 1960.

Charmion von Wiegand: Expanding Modernism includes scholarly contributions by Wismer, Martin Brauen, Lori Cole, Haema Sivanesan, Nancy J. Troy and Felix Vogel, which are illustrated by a generous selection of letters, archival photos and other ephemera from the artist’s archives. A detailed chronology charts the trajectory of von Wiegand’s critical, political, and curatorial engagements alongside the development of her painting practice, augmenting this vital account of her remarkable life, career, and social circle. A small but illuminating selection of individual works by her contemporaries are also reproduced throughout the catalogue with the aim of situating her work within a broader narrative of midcentury modernism. Both the exhibition and the catalogue seek to amplify and contextualize von Wiegand’s voice within the milieu of mid-century geometric abstraction. Of particular interest within the scope of the project are the Eastern ideologies that guided the artist’s life and work, an influence shared by many of her contemporaries that, until now, has largely been analyzed through the lens of European modernist philosophies or overlooked entirely.

In addition to reproducing a comprehensive selection of the artist’s work, the publication brings together a compendium of texts by von Wiegand, who began her career as a critic. A respected intellectual known for her receptiveness to new ideas and her connection to avant-garde circles, von Wiegand pursued both painting and journalism until a kismet meeting with Piet Mondrian in 1941 prompted a Neoplastic turn in her art and inspired her to make painting her primary focus. Charmion von Wiegand: Expanding Modernism will foreground her accomplishments as an artist, emphasizing her status as a painter who authored a compelling body of work that made significant contributions to the field of mid-century geometric abstraction. In her contribution, Maja Wismer provides an in-depth analysis of von Wiegand’s trajectory as a painter and intellectual, tracing the evolution of her imagery from social realism, to biomorphic abstraction, to a geometric abstraction structured by the artist’s close study of Theosophy and Buddhism. Lori Cole examines the effect von Wiegand’s work as a critic had on her painting practice, explaining the conflict the artist felt in reconciling her commitment to leftist politics with her passion for abstract painting.

Within the selection of archival material, a special focus is afforded to the artist’s correspondence with Mondrian, with whom she formed a close friendship shortly after he arrived in New York in 1940. Von Wiegand quickly became the foremost critic and translator of Mondrian’s art and writings, and played a key role in introducing the De Stijl painter to an American audience. Essays by Martin Brauen and Nancy J. Troy provide a close examination of the influence von Wiegand’s relationship with Mondrian had on her art, focusing on their penetrating discussions of Neoplasticism. By examining their relationship within the scene of abstract artists working in New York in the 1940s, Brauen and Troy’s contributions elucidate von Wiegand’s participation in the development of American abstract painting and describe how her status as a woman and critic affected her reputation as an artist among the avant-garde.

Apart from asserting von Wiegand’s brilliance as a visual artist, the catalogue and exhibition intend to highlight the role Eastern aesthetics, spirituality, and philosophy had in the development of von Wiegand’s art, an interest that was likewise embraced by her good friend Mark Tobey, with whom she explored the traditional arts of India, China, and Tibet. Indeed, Eastern philosophy became a prevailing interest among many American abstract painters as the hegemony of abstract expressionism waned—a development that has only recently been seriously studied. Essays by Haema Sivanesan and Felix Vogel examine von Wiegand’s interest in Theosophy, a religion established in the US in the late 19th century that combines various aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, occultism, and esotericism, and the ways in which she incorporated the central concepts of these varied systems of thought into her practice. Now recognized for bringing together Eastern and Western color theories into conversation with Western modernist art, von Wiegand’s oeuvre left an indelible mark on the evolution of postwar American abstraction and continues to captivate new generations of artists and thinkers.

To pre-order Charmion von Wiegand: Expanding Modernism, click here.

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