»Folly lies at the heart of Kafka's favorites—from Don Quixote via the assistants to the animals.... This much Kafka is absolutely sure of: first, that someone must be a fool if he is to help; second, that only a fool's help is real help. The only uncertain thing is whether such help can do a human being any good.« (Walter Benjamin, Some Reflections on Kafka in: Illuminations, tr. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 1968, p. 144.)
The concluding section of the Paul Klee Exhibition This is Just Between Ourselves currently on view at the Utsunomiya Museum of Art is entitled The Assistance of Fools. This is an allusion to the passage quoted above, taken from a letter of Walter Benjamin to his friend Gershom Scholem in which Benjamin discusses what resides at the core of the writings of Franz Kafka. In this final section, a menagerie of images of misshapen creatures is assembled, including What’s the Matter with Him? (1930) a small, perhaps self-deprecatory work depicting the torso-less figure of a human or animal. The angels that Klee produced in such concentrated fashion in his final years are kindred to these creatures.
Klee’s angels have not yet acquired the capacity to reveal the truth on earth as God’s messengers. Like the one depicted in The Angel, Still Searching (1939), they are still far from truth, groping in the midst of a distorted world. Perhaps their reaching out to human beings can only be like the groping of this angel, a blind and somewhat foolish gesture. Yet the metamorphosis that these prayerlike gestures engender—such as the birth of the grotesque creature in The Inventress of the Nest (1925)—is precisely the breathing of living beings.
This is what, along with an impish smile, indicates the Spielraum, or realm of play, that Klee opens to us. The present Klee exhibition, with its theme “This is Just Between Ourselves” might be said to be an exhibition that invites the viewer into a unique space and time, a Spielraum in which creatures that escape classification and domestication by virtue of incorporating an element of incompleteness or malformation live and breathe amidst constant metamorphosis. Has there ever been a Klee exhibition—at least in Japan — that offers such a rich sensory experience, and the opportunity to enjoy a glimpse of Klee’s creative process, affording fresh insight into the profundity of his work? Needless to say, this is undergirded by Klee scholarship of a depth that has made it possible to arrange works from a variety of periods to echo and reflect one another in the context of the unique themes that characterize Klee’s work.
One of the important aspects of the present exhibition is the experience it gives of the deepening of the oft-noted musicality of Klee’s work. The music that reverberates through Klee’s Spielraum can be a unique polyphony such as that of Fugue in Red (1920), but it does not stop at the harmony of several disparate voices—it goes on to possess a dynamism that gives birth to something else entirely from amidst that harmony. The second section of the exhibition, “Polyphony,” provides a place to fully appreciate the immense range of these reverberations. For example, in Island (1932), the open-ended form of an island arises, multidimensionally, out of a polyphonic ocean of pointillist color.
Or Klee’s resounding polyphony might, as in Illuminated Leaf (1929) take the form of a single leaf, taking shape from gradations of hue formed from the fusion of complementary colors—quietly growing as if embodying Goethe’s Urphänomen, the essential phenomenon that symbolizes the generation of the plant itself. The tranquillity of this work has something in common with the mysterious calm of Nude (1910), from the early period of Klee’s career. When this painting was rotated 90 degrees and photographed with infrared equipment, a smaller figure was found floating faintly within the torso of the melancholy and apparently pregnant nude that is the subject of the completed work.
This seems to announce that the small figure was buried before it could be born; while at the same time perhaps hinting that conceived out of the woman’s sadness, it is now striving for rebirth. This polyphony of Klee’s, expressed in the deliberate overlapping of multiple layers in a painting, invites the viewer to explore the liminal realm between life and death, and would appear to be grounded in a profound grief for the dead. Klee directly experienced the immensity of the deaths wrought by World War I, and no doubt saw how nature invades the relics left by history and brings forth new life from amidst the ruins. This is hinted at by the greenery that leaves such a strong impression in the group of works gathered in the third section of the exhibition, »A Demonic Fairy Tale.«
Among them, Women’s Pavilion (1921) a green light flickers in the darkness, illuminating a group of forms like something from a fairytale, difficult to classify as either natural or manmade, inviting the viewer to cross the threshold into another world. And in Still Life with Props (1923), a set of discarded props begin to move on their own, while giving off their own uncanny light.
That they exist in a time quite distinct from the chronological time of the real world is something that Klee’s painting suggests with consummate musicality. This is also convincingly expressed in the works grouped in the first section of the exhibition, »The Allegorical Klee,« employing motifs derived from the musical notation of the fermata and the turn.
The symbol of the turn, which produces the reverse of time while an ornament is being played, is used to form a face in Child (1918) that recalls that of the later Angelus Novus (1920). But in Album Leaf for a Musician (1924) it appears to be reining in a progressive temporal collapse of the musical staff.
On the other hand, the fermata, a symbol suggestive of an eye, not only brings about a suspension of time, but also appears to warp the landscape and breathe life into the greenery. When living things—including those lost to death—are penetrated in this way by another dimension of time, they can be reborn, into a world living in the midst of metamorphosis. This world is comprised of Klee’s works, but the invitation to enter it is extended by »The Children of the In-Between World« that give the fifth section of the exhibition its title.
In Untitled (Child and Kite), from 1940, the last year of the artist’s life, a child whose body has been transformed into a letter seems to guide the viewer into a paradise that exists in the form of another painting on the verso, Untitled (Flower and Snake)—and the exhibit, by showing us this, also conveys the importance of Klee’s use of both sides of certain of his works.
This child, whose form invites the viewer to visit the source from which the forms of all living things arise and metamorphose, might even serve as a symbol of Klee’s art itself. And the present Klee exhibition, »This is Just Between Ourselves,« responds to that invitation by following the traces of Klee’s impish smile into the inner reaches of his perfectly imperfect world, giving us a rare opportunity to be led to a rich experience of music and introduced to new forms of knowledge.
Mosaic from PRHUN (1931) and other masterpieces are also included in the exhibit.