Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision: From Nature to Art

By Kris Wilton

Paul Klee (1879–1940), Wall Plant (Mauerpflanze), 1922.

September 15, 2012

Paul Klee is the kind of artist who seems to show up in every museum, most memorably in the form of petite, almost childlike paintings featuring richly hued backgrounds, cryptic symbols and oddball figures.

But as a new exhibition at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art shows, those works make up just a sliver of Klee’s output. In reality, the Swiss-German artist explored a range of styles, techniques and subject matters throughout his prolific career, from primitivism to cubism to color field; drawing to etching to painting to writing.


Organized by John Sallis, professor of philosophy at BC, Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision: From Nature to Art, aims to highlight Klee’s philosophical leanings. Long a favorite among European intellectuals, with philosophers such as Martin Heidegger particularly entranced by his ideas about nature, art and representation, Klee laid out his ideas in theoretical writings, Bauhaus lecture notes, and, of course, his work.

Central to the exhibition is Klee’s idea that “Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible.” If the Impressionists aimed to change how we look at the natural world, Klee wanted us to look into it. Painting something, he believed, could give us a glimpse at its genesis. A good example is the show’s centerpiece, Wall Plant (1922), an abstract work in muted blues and purples that Sallis argues “makes visible by artistic means all that belongs to vegetative genesis.”

Paul Klee (1879–1940), Polyphonic Architecture(polyphone Architektur), 1930.

The show is full of heady stuff, and the McMullen does a fantastic job of presenting it. Beautifully laid out in eight thematic sections described by smart, digestible wall texts, the 65 works not only show Klee’s philosophical leanings but also the range and, for lack of a better word, liveliness of his work. I especially loved the works from the end of his life: childlike, but in a much different way than the earlier ones – wiser somehow – and the frenetic, angry drawings into which he channeled his fear and loathing as Hitler came to power in 1933. However much you already know – or don’t – about Klee and philosophy, you’ll walk away with a lot.

Paul Klee: Philosophical Vision: From Nature to Art

Sept. 1 – Dec. 9, 2012
McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College

About the Author
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post,,, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice,, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.


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