Giorgio de Chirico
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Kenneth E. Silver
Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936. With over 150 works by 80 artists, including Balthus, Giorgio de Chirico, Jean Cocteau, Otto Dix, Fernand Leger, Henri Matisse, Mies van der Rohe, Picasso, the exhibition explores the rebirth of classical beauty and order in painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, film, fashion, and decorative arts between World War I and World War II. Contemporary: Intervals by Ryan Gander; from the utopian ambitions of the modernist movement to the overlooked details of daily experience, Gander's work ranges across a dizzying spectrum of forms and ideas.
Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936
Rising from the ruins and horror of World War I, European art and culture returned to the classical past, seeking tranquility, order, and enduring values. Artists turned away from prewar experimentalism and embraced the heroic human figure and rational organization. Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918–1936 is the first exhibition in the United States to focus on the vast transformation in European culture between the world wars. With approximately 150 works by more than 80 artists, comprising painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, film, fashion, and the decorative arts, this thematically organized exhibition examines the return to order in its key manifestations: the poetic dream of antiquity in the Parisian avant-garde; the politicized revival of the Roman Empire under Benito Mussolini; the functionalist utopianism of International Style architecture that originated at the Bauhaus; and, ultimately, the chilling aesthetic of nascent Nazi society.
The exhibition presents works by established masters of the period, including Georges Braque, Carlo Carrà, Giorgio de Chirico, Otto Dix, Fernand Léger, Aristide Maillol, Henri Matisse, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pablo Picasso, Gio Ponti, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, and August Sander, as well as works by artists lesser known outside of their home countries, such as Julius Bissier, Felice Casorati, Achille Funi, Marcel Gromaire, Auguste Herbin, Anton Hiller, Heinrich Hoerle, Ubaldo Oppi, and Milly Steger. Many works included in Chaos and Classicism have never before been shown in the United States.
This exhibition is supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and The David Berg Foundation.
Chaos and Classicism is organized by New York University Professor of Modern Art Kenneth E. Silver, a renowned authority on European art between the wars, assisted by Helen Hsu, Curatorial Assistant, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with Vivien Greene, Curator of 19th- and Early-20th- Century Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as curatorial adviser.
The years after World War I were marked by a striking modernist avowal of traditional aesthetics: a retour à l’ordre (return to order) in France, a ritorno al mestiere (return to craft) in Italy, and Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) in Germany. Picasso was a leader of this new historicism and proved to be particularly influential in promulgating a classical aesthetic from 1918 to 1936.
Picasso, although Spanish, was based in France from 1904 onward, and his great classical figure paintings of the early 1920s demonstrate how decisively the Parisian avant-garde adopted the new post–World War I aesthetic. Chaos and Classicism presents several of his works, as well as other examples of this style, such as Léger’s canvases of mechanized figures and commedia dell’arte paintings by André Derain and Paris-based Gino Severini. The notion of a Latinate civilization comes to the fore in the emerging influence of Jean Cocteau, and the exhibition features excerpts from his 1930 film The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d’un poète, 1930). Le Corbusier’s architecture and design, as well as the Purist paintings he created alongside Amédée Ozenfant, forge a visual link with abstraction and Synthetic Cubism. Madeleine Vionnet’s neo-Greek fashion designs and Art Deco objects by Ruhlmann translate the more abstruse aspects of classicizing art and theory into functional items.
In Italy, de Chirico’s paintings, along with those of Carrà, bridge the transition to the New Sobriety of Italian art immediately after the war. De Chirico’s essay “Il ritorno al mestiere” (“The Return to Craft”), published in 1919 in the influential journal Valori Plastici, was especially vital for this classicizing moment as it renewed interest in the Italian Renaissance painters Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca. Chaos and Classicism also includes paintings by artists such as Massimo Campigli and Giorgio Morandi. Architectural models and design objects, including a version of Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como, Italy, and porcelain by Ponti, demonstrate the power of the neoclassical paradigm for postwar Italian modernists. Sculpture, the quintessential classical medium, was especially strong in interwar Italy and is represented throughout the exhibition.
In Germany, Mies van der Rohe’s synthesis of classical form and modern technology was central to the ethos that challenged Expressionism in interwar Germany: iconic elements of his Barcelona Pavilion (1929), including Georg Kolbe’s Morning (Der Morgen, 1925), the life-size nude sculpture so well known from original photos of Mies’s seminal structure, are featured in the exhibition. Renowned Bauhaus teacher Oskar Schlemmer’s modernist figurative paintings testify to the German translation of the Italian revival (Schlemmer was deeply influenced by the art of Piero della Francesca, among others). Moreover, after the perceived excesses of Expressionist art, the Neue Sachlichkeit movement represented the search for aesthetic Klarheit (“clarity”) in Weimar Germany. Works by Dix, Georg Scholz, Georg Schrimpf, and Wilhelm Schnarrenberger reveal this rationalist approach along with August Sander’s radically pared-down photographic portraits. However, modern German aesthetics also leads viewers toward the exhibition’s dramatic conclusion. As the Weimar Republic collapsed and Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the new classicism—Parisian myths, Italian role-playing, and the German search for objectivity—was monstrously transformed into a quasiscientific doctrine of human perfection under the Nazis.
The exhibition is organized into eight sections that illuminate the dominant concerns and subliminal drives of European art and thought in this highly charged period. The themes are developed in a loosely chronological installation that winds up the Guggenheim Museum’s ramps and on two Annex level galleries.
High Gallery: In the Shadow of War: Chaos and Classicism
An introductory section installed in the High Gallery features a selection of 15 prints from Dix’s portfolio The War (Der Krieg, 1924), which recollect the destruction and trauma of World War I. These graphic depictions of the horrors of war are juxtaposed with works by Maillol and Picasso, as well as Italian and German sculptors such as Campigli and Hiller whose classical works can be viewed as an aesthetic rehabilitation of the ravaged body according to antique balance and measure.
Ramp 1: A More Durable Self
This section examines artists’ enthusiasm for depicting sculpture from antiquity or incorporating sculptural models into their compositions as exemplars of the human form—as more durable versions of the self, epitomized in Bissier’s painting Sculptor with Self-portrait (Bildhauer mit Selbstbildnis, 1928). Other artists represented include Hoerle, Suzanne Phocas, and Scholz.
Ramp 2: The Avant-Garde Looks Backward
In the years after World War I, the fragmentation and optical experiments of Cubism strikingly contrast with Picasso’s voluptuous, Grecian-robed women, ambling in the Mediterranean sun, or seated in peaceful repose, and Braque’s monumental canéphores (basket carriers). The postwar subjects of the classicizing artists, including Léger and Matisse, as well as photographer Edward Steichen, indicate a renewed interest in the roots of civilization, in Greece and Rome and their ruins. Several of Picasso’s most important works of this period are on view in this section, including The Source (La Source, 1921), on loan from Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and Woman in White (Femme assise, les bras croisés, 1924), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Ramp 3: Classical Bodies, New Humanity
The postwar search for a reassuring artistic language from the past led logically to sculpture. The idealized human form was reconceived by an international group of major sculptors including Kolbe, Maillol, and Arturo Martini. This fascination with the whole and intact body lent itself to politicized idealizations in the work of Rudolf Belling, Gromaire, and Léger on the left, and to the Italian Fascist art of Campigli and Oppi on the right.
Ramp 4: Crazy for Classicism
The revived interest in Greek and Roman history and myth, which had long provided the West with a shared narrative and archetypes, proved inspirational in not only painting and sculpture, but also photography, film, fashion, and the decorative arts. This section includes a film excerpt by Cocteau, photographs by Florence Henri and George Hoyningen-Huene, design objects by Ponti, furniture by Ruhlmann, and dresses by Edward Molyneux and Vionnet.
Annex Level 5: The Constructors
This section focuses on the architectural interpretations of classicism and the metaphors of construction and reconstruction that became ubiquitous in the wake of World War I’s devastation. The new modernist language sought a resolution of architecture’s past with the industrial present. Platonic ideas of geometric harmony and the beauty of new materials, especially glass and metal, were brought together in unprecedented combinations. Examples include Le Corbusier’s architecture and design, as well as the Purist paintings he created with Ozenfant. Works on view also consist of newly fabricated models of buildings by Le Corbusier and Terragni, objects and furniture designed for Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion, and chairs by Piero Bottoni for the Casa Minerbi in Milan.
Ramp 5: Classicizing the Everyday
Still lifes and portraits crystallizing the German Neue Sachlichkeit and Italian Novecento (1900s) movements demonstrate these rigorous approaches to representation and the desire to capture objective reality. The exhibition presents traditional painted portraits and self-portraits by Fridel Dethleffs- Edelmann, Dix, Carl Hofer, Morandi, Picasso, and Luigi Trifoglio, among others, as well as Sander’s typological photographic portraits, all of which assert classic fixity amid the flux of modern life.
Ramp 6: Performance/Anxiety
The performing body became a key element of modern culture between the wars. Developed, remade, and “perfected,” the body was the new measure of objective value, in contrast to the mind, now considered too abstract and subjective. Artists as stylistically and politically diverse as Willi Baumeister, Franco Gentilini, Gromaire, Albert Janesch, and Lorenzo Lorenzetti invoked the theme of sport in their work of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Circus, carnival, and commedia dell’arte imagery was treated by an equally diverse group including Derain, Antonio Donghi, Juan Gris, Erich Heckel, Hoerle, and Severini.
Annex Level 7: The Dark Side of Classicism
The exhibition concludes with a sobering look at the nationalistic pursuit of cultural roots and perfection, as gradually appropriated by the political right. Among the most notorious modern portrayals of antique Rome were paintings of gladiators by de Chirico, who was attacked by the Surrealists for his artistic collusion with the Fascist regime. The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were a classicizing spectacle, recorded and refashioned by the greatest Nazi propagandist, filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl in her Olympia (1936–38), excerpts of which are in this final section.
Chaos and Classicism is accompanied by a 192-page, illustrated catalogue published by the Guggenheim, with an overview essay by Kenneth E. Silver; additional essays by James Herbert, Professor of Art History and of Visual Studies, University of California at Irvine; Emily Braun, Distinguished Professor, Hunter College; and Jeanne Nugent, independent art historian; and thematic plate entries by Helen Hsu. Priced at $55 in a hardcover edition and $35 for the softcover.
A full schedule of educational programs is being presented under the auspices of the Sackler Center for Arts Education during the run of Chaos and Classicism. For updated information regarding ticketed programs, contact the Box Office at 212 423 3587 or visit http://guggenheim.org/education.
On View at the Sackler Center for Arts Education
Vox Populi: Posters of the Interwar Years
September 1, 2010–January 9, 2011
The 1920s and 1930s were among the greatest years in the history of poster design. The popular voice of manufacturers, political movements, and the travel and entertainment industries, the poster was an immensely refined art created for a vast public. Vox Populi: Posters of the Interwar Years presents a selection of six posters from France, Italy, and Germany.
Coup de Foudre: Based on The Blood of a Poet by Jean Cocteau
A Collaboration between Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky and Corey Baker, Co-Artistic Director of Ballet Noir
Saturday, October 9, 2010, 8 pm
Sunday, October 10, 2010, 6 pm
In conjunction with Chaos and Classicism, the Guggenheim Museum is pleased to premiere Coup de Foudre, a contemporary art and performance project based on a reinterpretation of Jean Cocteau’s classic film The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d’un poète, 1930) by Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky and Corey Baker, resident choreographer of the New York–based company Ballet Noir, and featuring the Telos Ensemble. Cocteau’s work in film, painting, sculpture, poetry, and theater has engaged many themes that continue to drive today’s digital and multimedia contemporary art. In the eyes of Miller and Baker, The Blood of a Poet examines the role of language in relation to cinema and dance and creates a milieu where poetry becomes imagist at every level. For Miller, Cocteau’s sense of interdisciplinary production anticipates the DJ mix through the French artist’s use of musicality and the insertion of classical forms into modern contexts. Baker sees Cocteau’s use of movement in film as animating the inanimate by setting simple images into motion. Coup de Foudre explores the ambiguous relationship between modern compositional strategies, based on sampling and digital media, and an art experience tied to cinematic history and contemporary times.
Lateness and the Politics of Media
Tuesday, October 12, 6:30 pm
Principal, Eisenman Architects
Professor in Practice, Yale School of Architecture
The celebrated architect, theorist, and author of Giuseppe Terragni: Transformations, Decompositions, Critiques (2003) posits that we are in a late moment in history in which design is controlled by the media to promote consumption. Where does that leave architecture, which, he argues, is the antithesis of design?
Scultura Lingua Morta: Sculpture's Forbidden Languages
Wednesday, November 10, 6:30 pm
Director, Tate Britain
Penelope Curtis, a noted scholar of modern sculpture from Fascist Italy and the Third Reich, shares new thoughts in the context of Chaos and Classicism.
Constructing Classicism in Fashion
Tuesday, December 7, 6:30 pm
Deputy Director, The Museum at FIT
Between the world wars, women such as Madeleine Vionnet dominated fashion design in Paris and New York. Charting the embrace of classicism, Patricia Mears, a renowned costume historian and style expert, discusses clothing innovations that defined fashion in the 1930s, changed the course of modern dress, and continue to influence couture today.
Image: Fernand Léger, Woman Holding a Vase (definitive state) (Femme tenant un vase [état définitif]), 1927. Oil on canvas, 57 5/8 x 38 3/8 inches (146.3 x 97.5 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 58.1508. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Chaos and Classicism is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from October 1, 2010, through January 9, 2011, and will be presented at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, from February 21 through May 15, 2011.
From the utopian ambitions of the modernist movement to the overlooked details of daily experience, Ryan Gander’s work ranges across a dizzying spectrum of forms and ideas. His meticulously researched projects—which have included such diverse conceptual gestures as an invented word, a chess set, a television script, and a children’s book—engage familiar historical narratives and cultural paradigms only to unravel their structures and assumptions, presenting elusive scenarios that abound with interpretive potential.
As part of the museum’s Intervals series, Gander has created a new, site-specific installation in the Aye Simon Reading Room, a small library and study space located on Rotunda Level 2. Here visitors encounter a scene of apparent catastrophe that relates to Gander’s ongoing exploration of the schism between the Dutch artists Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) and Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931). These friends and creative collaborators severed their relationship in 1924 due to van Doesburg’s belief in the diagonal line as a valid element in abstract art, which conflicted with Mondrian’s insistence on a reductive visual language consisting of only gridded horizontals and verticals. Gander imagines this artistic dogmatism provoking a violent struggle between the two men that sends them crashing through a stained-glass window in the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect of the Guggenheim Museum. In a mysterious temporal and spatial discontinuity, the debris from this accident has landed in the Reading Room, showering fragments of glass and lead over the books about Wright’s life and work that are customarily available in the space. Accompanying this relic from the annals of art history is an artifact that has been transported to the museum from the future: a “quarter centi-dollar” representing the inflated worth of a contemporary quarter to $25 by the year 2032, that has been glued to the floor in reference to a classic practical joke.
This exhibition is presented in conjunction with the Public Art Fund’s commission of a major new sculpture by Gander, The Happy Prince, currently on view at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Fifth Avenue and 60th street. The leadership committees for the Intervals series and Intervals: Ryan Gander are gratefully acknowledged.
Betsy Ennis, Director of Media & Public Relations
Lauren Van Natten, Senior Publicist
Claire Laporte, Publicist
212 4233840 firstname.lastname@example.org
Preview: Thursday, September 30, 10am-1pm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Full rotunda and all ramps; Annex Levels 5 and 7
1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street) New York City
Museum Hours: Sun–Wed, 10 am–5:45 pm; Fri, 10 am–5:45 pm; Sat, 10 am– 7:45 pm; closed Thurs. On Saturdays, beginning at 5:45 pm, the museum hosts Pay What You Wish.
Admission: Adults $18, students/seniors (65+) $15, members and children under 12 free. Admission includes an audio tour of Chaos and Classicism available in English, and of highlights of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection, available in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian.