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"New Harmony: Abstraction between the Wars, 1919-1939" on view at the Guggenheim
Fernand Léger (b. 1881, Argentan, France; d. 1955, Gif-sur-Yvette, France), Composition with Aloes, No. 4 (Composition à l'aloës, no. 4), 1934–35. Oil on canvas, 113.3 x 146 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collecion© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

NEW YORK, NY.- This summer the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum explores a particularly rich facet of its twentieth-century collection with an exhibition celebrating the spirited trends in abstraction embraced among international artists working in Europe between the world wars. Taken from the title of a 1936 painting by Paul Klee—an optimistic work of utopian geometry reflecting the artist’s interest in color theory and musical composition—New Harmony: Abstraction between the Wars, 1919–1939 features approximately 40 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by some 20 artists, including Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, and Joaquín Torres-García. Displaying rarely viewed objects and iconic works from the Guggenheim’s permanent collection, the exhibition is on view from May 10 through September 8, 2013.

New Harmony: Abstraction between the Wars, 1919–1939 is organized by Tracey Bashkoff, Senior Curator, Collections and Exhibitions, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

While some artists turned to figuration and pictorial order after World War I, a subject thoroughly explored in the Guggenheim exhibition Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918–1936 (October 1, 2010–January 9, 2011), New Harmony embraces the avant-garde practices of abstraction in artistic nexuses across Europe. As borders were reopened or redrawn, newly invigorated centers of creative exchange emerged in European cities during the 1920s and ’30s in response to the tumult of war. De Stijl’s radical vision, as conceptualized by Dutch artists Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, sought a universal aesthetic language formed from principles of geometry, suggesting that balance and equilibrium would foster harmony in art and society. Russian Constructivists like Naum Gabo, who believed in idealistic theories of geometric abstraction, migrated west as Soviet policy began to support more conservative expression against the avant-garde arts in 1921. Likewise, the Weimar Bauhaus—a German artistic and educational community dedicated to developing a universally accessible design vocabulary—became home to artists with socially minded ideals devoted to abstraction. The faculty included Josef Albers, Vasily Kandinsky, Klee, and László Moholy-Nagy, among others.

Other interwar artists endeavored to provoke reactions by surrendering rational control or turning to Freudian theory. Kurt Schwitters explored unexpected combinations incorporating detritus of everyday life among abstract formal elements in a quest for “freedom from all fetters,” as evident in his Merz works, collages, paintings, and environments. Even among the largely representational imagery of Surrealism the abstract realm of biomorphic forms became a primary element of expression through the influence of Joan Miró’s paintings and Jean Arp’s sculptures and reliefs.

Abstract art, born in the prewar heyday of the avant-garde, remained vibrant in the interwar period and offered opportunities to artists for reflection and continued exploration. Through the presentation of diverse abstract styles drawn from the Guggenheim’s holdings, New Harmony brings together some of the most influential artists working in Europe between the world wars.

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