Abstract World (Paul Klee) (Horizon, Zenith, and Atmosphere)

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This image by Paul Klee, Horizon, Zenith, and Atmosphere (DATE) is now on view at Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim. Klee’s extraterrestrial figures tend to be drawn from more down to earth perspectives that shadow our own. This picture takes a long view. It lifts the gaze of the viewer over the horizon represented by the thick bar at the bottom of the picture plane up to the orange dot that is the picture’s zenith behind which looms the white oval figure. Lines shoot out from the zenith point, which forms the one single tip of what is, no doubt, an infinity of triangular forms. The entire composition is envolped in a hazy atmospheric.

Sarah Lynn Henry’s essay Klee’s “Neo-Romanticism: the wages of scientific curiosity” in a volume of essays, Biocentrism and Modernism reflects briefly on the painting. The discussion appears in a section on “the phenomenon of weather,” which follows ones on “geological life,” and “movement of waters.” In her essay, Henry tags romantic Carl Gustav Carus who called the reflection of sky on water “truly heaven on earth,” whether darkly or cheerfully invoking a spirit of longing. What she calls Klee’s modern approach to this kind of atmospheric landscape is a “strange interjacent world.” In her words, Klee’s “apparitions are shimmery and quixotic, ambiguous as to presence and absence, near and far. One can read in them animated shapes and flights, gesture and pursuits, giving us an aqueous universe with its own reflected sun” (p.193).

(If you look closely, you might make out the vague shape of a bald hominid in the back of the picture, which turns out to be me reflected in the protective glass of the picture)

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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