The Life and Art of Vaslav Nijinsky

Frye Art Museum, Seattle
September 26 to November 16


Third Eye (1916-1917),
watercolour

AFTER A NERVOUS breakdown in 1918, Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the most celebrated dancer-choreographers of the twentieth century was institutionalized in Switzerland and effectively spent the remainder of his life finding expression solely through drawing and painting. Although his work was exhibited professionally on several occasions and supported by friends as eminent as Jean Cocteau, its minimalist, modernist forms could not begin to compete with the ever-persistent image and legend of Nijinsky the dancer and demigod. His geometric designs, characteristically based on curves, circles and spirals and executed in a spare palette of reds, blues and black, were amateur but nevertheless consistent with the most advanced contemporaneous explorations of reductive abstraction being created by artists such as Paul Klee, Frantisek Kupka and Theo Van Doesburg.

In a Nijinsky Archives exhibition organized by the Severin Wunderman Museum, Irvine, California, which includes 67 watercolours and drawings by Nijinsky, 73 works by other artists celebrating his dance and arresting male beauty, and numerous posters, costumes, dance equipment and historical photographs, the anomalies of two distinctive artforms are placed side by side: the phenomenon of dance and the timelessness of graphic art. During Nijinsky's brief dance career, which ended at age 29, his entire substance was expressed through it. What is more provocative, perhaps, is whether his spiritual component can be clearly evinced in these seemingly unassuming compositions.

© Ted Lindberg