Paul Klee: Making Visible at Tate Modern

-This exhibition is now closed-

An edited version of this review was originally published in Mongoos Magazine.

Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon 1933, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon 1933, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Tate Modern’s latest exhibition, Paul Klee: Making Visible, is a colossal retrospective of the modern master’s work, presenting 130 paintings and drawings over 17 gallery rooms. The size of the exhibition, which nonetheless represents only a tiny fraction of the thousands of artworks completed by Klee during his thirty-year career, bears testament to the astounding inventiveness and productivity of one of the 20th century’s most important artists.

The most striking thing about this show is Klee’s use of colour. An accomplished musician as well as an artist, Klee used different pigments as a composer would use musical notes, to abstractly evoke emotions, suggest mood and even illuminate existential questions. Compositions like Green X Above Left (1915), in which bright rectangles cover the painting’s surface except for a white square containing a green X, illustrate Klee’s idea of colour as the fundamental building block of art; it is as if all of reality is summed up by a patchwork of coloured shapes, with the unattainable void taking on a metaphysical significance. In Klee’s more figurative works, colour is also of essential importance. In Landscape with Flags (1915), Klee uses simplified shapes to suggest buildings, flags and the sky, but employs colour in such a dream-like way as to bridge the gap between representing a real landscape and painting from imagination.

Although Klee is perhaps known primarily for his abstract, patchwork colour paintings, this exhibition demonstrates how much creative variety Klee was able to accomplish during his career. His paintings and drawings of human figures, such as Dispute (1929), Ghost of a Genius (1922), The Seafarer (1923) and Main Scene from the Ballet ‘The False Oath’ (1922), demonstrate wildly different styles, alternatively cubist, cartoonish, symbolic and grotesque. Right up until his death, Klee seems to have been an artist obsessed with continuous aesthetic experimentation, with later paintings like Rich Harbour (1938) showing a continued interest in creating complex images on the borders of figuration and abstraction.

Paul Klee, Comedy 1921, Tate

Paul Klee, Comedy 1921, Tate

A single visit to this exhibition could never be enough to do justice to such a varied and intriguing collection, with each individual, small-scale artwork deserving of close study, but the chronological organisation of the show successfully gives an insight into Klee’s working processes and demonstrates the refinement and elaboration of his unique ideas and techniques over time.

Paul Klee: Making Visible is open until 9 March.

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