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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Shows a Selection of Works of Art from Its Own Collection
"One Hundred and Fifty Multicolored Marilyns" (1979) by Andy Warhol is one of the works of art featured in the exhibition Selections from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection. EFE/Miguel Toña.

BILBAO.- The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Selections from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection , the first in a cycle scheduled to take place over the next three years and organized to offer an in-depth perspective of the most significant works in the Collection of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by placing them in context and thereby facilitating a comprehensive vision of the Collection’s focus.

Curated by Petra Joos, Director of Museum Activities at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, this exhibition illustrates major art movements of the second half of the 20th century such as Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel or Pop Art with a careful selection of key works in the evolution of postwar art by 14 artists who have exerted a tremendous influence on other creators.

This presentation, which has been chronologically organized, begins in Gallery 103 A, which features gestural and expressive works created in America in the 1950s and 60s that fall under the heading of Abstract Expressionism, a movement which encompassed various styles.

As Spanish artist Antonio Saura wrote, “In the works of the Abstract Expressionists, the unlimited spatial solution is achieved not by the absence of elements but with a furious, sometimes complete occupation that does not even respect the boundaries of the canvas. For an action painter, the presence of such expansive urge was manifested in a dynamic counterpoint of gestures which, reviving the Expressionist tradition, fill the canvas with furious vitality, creating the painting as a violent structure, rather than a balanced surface.”

The leading exponents of action painting, which refers to the expressive qualities inherited from the subjective heroism of the Expressionists and the Surrealists’ automatic writing, were Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Willem de Kooning. Other Abstract Expressionists used large color expanses to evoke certain spiritual states. In the work of these “color-field” painters, such as Mark Rothko, the message is the consequence of meditation, producing images that silently inspire the viewer to lose him- or herself in the contemplation of indefinite spaces, where the sublime is the sensual and spiritual experience leading to an elimination of the obstacles between the painter and the idea, between the idea and the observer.

This gallery contains works by four major artists for whom Peggy Guggenheim organized solo exhibitions at her museum/gallery Art of This Century in the 1940s. Her patronage played a decisive part in consolidating the reputation of these artists and the fame of the New York School.

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (1952–53) painting is one of the masterpieces of the Bilbao Collection. It reveals Rothko’s experimental facet as it leans towards a new monumental expression, but without losing the intimate, contemplative tone that underlies his entire oeuvre. Another large work, and one of the few canvases of such dimensions produced by Willem de Kooning, is Villa Borghese (1960), a souvenir/tribute to the artist’s sojourn in Rome which De Kooning manages to suggest without depicting its actual landscape. Meanwhile, in the painting Untitled (1964), Clyfford Still attempted to create a purely visual, indescribable transcendental experience in a canvas of dizzying spatiality that shatters every known limit of space. Robert Motherwell, a well-known intellectual and the youngest of this generation of artists, explored the profound meaning of reality beyond the recognizable image in his painting. His three works included in the exhibit—Iberia (1958), The Voyage: Ten Years After (1961) and Phoenician Red Studio (1977)—show how Motherwell formulated his own concept of painting, like a mural that spreads beyond the very boundaries of the pictorial plane.

Selections from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection continues in Gallery 105 with Cy Twombly’s masterpiece Nine Discourses on Commodus , a series of nine paintings created in Rome in the winter of 1963 on the theme of the Roman Emperor Aurelius Commodus (AD 161–192). The aesthetic composition of these paintings is a chaotic order that aims to transmit the political situation during Commodus’ reign, which triggered the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The gray background in all nine paintings serves as the common surface for gestural painting, with a narrative quality achieved by drawing a grid and including words, numbers, and calligraphic markings.

While the writing found in Twombly’s work points to the gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism, Robert Rauschenberg began to use commercial silkscreening techniques to create large-format paintings based on his own photographs and on images found in the media. Barge (1962–63) is the largest of his screen-printed paintings whose panoply of images evokes everything from the idea of motion and transformation to the complexity and abundance of everyday life. Other Pop artists like Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist used printed images found in newspapers or advertisements as themes for their works, which reflected mass culture through its consumer symbols and icons, as in One Hundred and Fifty Multicolored Marilyns (1979), or the icons of modern life, like Rosenquist’s Flamingo Capsule (1970), an elegy to the Apollo 1 mission disaster.

Influenced by existentialist philosophy and still suffering the aftermath of World War II, in Europe certain artists such as Jean Dubuffet initiated a return to painting in which expressive crossbreeding and synthesis took precedence over the principles of utopia and experimentation that had characterized the avant-garde movements. This new path, first began in France with Art Informel, was echoed in Antonio Saura’s work, which is represented in the show by his canvas Crucifixion (Crucifixión, 1959–63). With regard to his Crucifixions , the artist himself explained: “I have attempted to achieve the exact opposite of Velázquez’s Christ, to convulse an image and shake it with a wind of protest… This image, like Goya’s firing-squad victim with a white shirt and hands in the air, or like the mother in Picasso’s Guernica , can still be a tragic symbol of our time.”

Yves Klein was an artist ahead of his time, a forerunner of many artistic practices and trends which have now become widespread, such as happenings and performances. He used naked bodies like living brushes in his Anthropometries series, a striking example of which is his Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) [La grande Anthropométrie bleue (ANT 105) , 1960]. In this piece we sense the artist directing the action of the bodies, whose imprint is associated with absence. Klein made use of photography, composed the Monotone-Silence Symphony, presented his actions in public and even designed ephemeral works and air architectures such as Fire Fountain (1961), which was built in 1997 and is now a permanent installation in the north pond of the Museum.

The exhibition is completed with works by Basque sculptors Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza. These two artists figure prominently in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection, which owns a significant number of works that serve to illustrate their respective careers.

After years engaged in an artistic endeavor he called his “Experimental Proposition” that led him to a series of conceptual reflections on the issues of sculpture, Oteiza abandoned sculpture in 1959 to focus his efforts on cultural, political and educational activism in the Basque Country. The five pieces included in this selection are representative of his most important series, and illustrate his desire for transcendence. In all of his work—whether in sculptures, paper reliefs he called gravitations , graphic work, or drawings—Chillida researched, materialized, and drew connections between concepts such as the limit, the void, space, and scale, subjected to the signification of the materials, which constitute his artistic vocabulary. His work entitled Advice to Space V (Consejo al espacio V , 1993) is based on simplicity and on the construction of a void that breathes life into the space around it and acquires the status of a symbol.

Finally, this presentation of the Collection offers a unique opportunity to view the plaster sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz entitled Working model for Government of the People (1967), now on public display for the first time. This work recently entered the Museum’s Collection thanks to a generous donation from The Jacques & Yulla Lipchitz Foundation made possible with the assistance of BBK. This piece constitutes the most accomplished study for Government of the People, a monumental sculpture commissioned by the City of Philadelphia in 1967 and one of his most important public projects. Lipchitz was one of the great sculptors of the 20th century and a pioneer of modern sculpture who notably influenced the development of this field, and his work enhances and complements the other sculptures included in the show.

In short, these artworks allow visitors to explore the most important artistic developments of the 1950s through the 1970s, an era of change and transition towards heterogeneous and personal languages that reflected the spirit of the time.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao | Petra Joos | Abstract Expressionism | Pop Art | Mark Rothko |

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