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Contemporary art exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York explores storytelling
Agnieszka Kurant, Phantom Library, 2011–12 (detail). Embossed canvas, silkscreen on paper and cardboard, thermochromic pigment on paper, gold leaf, silver leaf, and offset print on paper, 112 books, 30 x 495 x 20 cm overall, edition 3/3. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Purchased with funds contributed by the Young Collectors Council with additional funds contributed by Michael Lee, Sihien Goh, and Stephen Javaras 2014.126 © Agnieszka Kurant. Photo: Jean Vong, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- Bringing together over 100 works in diverse mediums by 48 international artists from the Guggenheim’s contemporary collection, Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim examines the ways in which artists are forging new paradigms for storytelling that expand on conventional narrative devices such as plot, character, and setting. Anchored by a number of artworks from the 1990s, the majority of works in the exhibition were created after 2005 and selected from the Guggenheim’s growing collection of global contemporary art. The show is enhanced by the contributions of renowned novelists and poets, who were invited to reflect on individual artworks as points of departure for their own creative work. Accompanied by gallery readings, screenings, and performances, which include an all-night dance party, Storylines is on view in the rotunda from June 5 to September 9, 2015. Nearly half of the works are on view at the Guggenheim for the first time.

Visual art has always been closely associated with storytelling. In the twentieth century, with the advent of abstraction and its radical break with the past, many artists associated with the avant-garde in the United States and Europe rejected the figurative and eliminated explicit narrative content. In the 1990s, a new generation of artists turned away from the deconstruction of representation in favor of more intimate, open-ended acts of storytelling, weaving in their own accounts of race, gender, and sexuality. Such stories were often embedded in otherwise abstract forms, sometimes activated by platforms for social interaction. Storylines includes key works from this influential era, such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Golden) (1995). Appearing on four of the museum’s six ramps, the luminous curtain shimmers with strings of faux-gilded beads, inviting the viewer to transform its shape simply by walking through it. A poignant example of works addressing concerns of communal and queer identity, Catherine Opie’s self-portraits, taken in the 1990s and revisited in 2004, also are on view, offering a deeply personal perspective on narrative representation. Signature works by Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Mark Leckey, and Glenn Ligon—with their invented scenarios, literary references, and explorations of contemporary mythologies—provide highlights from the museum’s exhibition and collection history. Taking the historical moment of these works as its starting point, Storylines offers an updated view of how the museum’s global collection practices have evolved over the past decade. Numerous works acquired through international collaborations, such as the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, demonstrate the ways artists have engaged narrative forms to communicate ideas about identity, history, and politics. A number of the works in Storylines were produced as a part of commissioning programs, continuing to build upon the museum’s rich history of catalyzing the creation and exhibition of new work.

For many artists working today, storytelling does not require structured scenes and characters. Rather, narrative potential—whether individual memories or the broader cultural stories we tell—might be rooted in a found object or image, a text, a specific material, or a conversation, offering multiple interpretive possibilities rather than a single reading. In projects created through extensive research, acts of appropriation, or performance, the artists in Storylines uncover layers of meaning, turning to individual and often autobiographical experience as a means of conveying shared stories, whether real or fictional. For example, Mariana Castillo Deball takes on the role of explorer or archeologist, compiling found materials in a way that reveals new connections and meanings in her two works, Lost Magic Kingdoms Paolozzi (2013) and Stelae Storage (2013). Situated on storage racks, plaster casts of objects found in southern Mexico raise questions about the value of copy and the transmission of historical truth. Two pieces from Taryn Simon’s series A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII (2008–11) result from meticulous research to trace genealogical connections—and the effect of fraught familial relations—across eighteen diverse bloodlines, which she expresses in photography, text, and graphic design. Mark Manders creates uneasy sculptural tableaux that evoke forgotten stories or buried memories; each work embodies a chapter in an ongoing, career-long narrative that conflates self and architecture. The installation Room with Reduced Chair and Camouflaged Factory (2003) comprises a haunting, factory-like structure, under which is placed a neatly folded pile of the artist’s clothes, a pair of shoes, and a set of contact lenses, disrupting this fantasy realm with a disarming dose of autobiography.

As contemporary artists introduce new narrative forms in their works, they invite consideration of the cycles of communication and interpretation that have emerged through social media and the rapidly evolving ways that knowledge, information, and fictions are created and consumed. Ranging from Agnieszka Kurant’s crowd-sourced, communal autograph projected on the facade of the museum to Simon Fujiwara’s humorous, circuitous video that reenacts a real-life experience through the “rehearsal” of a screenplay, the works underscore that seemingly every aspect of life is now subject to commentary and circulation—largely through digital text and photographs. These new narrative frames highlight the roles that each of us can play as both author and reader, foregrounding the fact that meaning is contingent in today’s interconnected and multivalent world.

Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim includes artworks by Paweł Althamer, Julieta Aranda, Matthew Barney, Kevin Beasley, John Bock, Carol Bove, Ernesto Caivano, Mariana Castillo Deball, Maurizio Cattelan, Trisha Donnelly, Shannon Ebner, Simon Fujiwara, Ellie Ga, Gerard & Kelly, Simryn Gill, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rachel Harrison, Camille Henrot, Juliana Huxtable, Rashid Johnson, Matt Keegan, Agnieszka Kurant, Mark Leckey, Lee Bul, Glenn Ligon, Sharon Lockhart, Nate Lowman, Mark Manders, Ryan McGinley, Josephine Meckseper, Zanele Muholi, Iván Navarro, Catherine Opie, Gabriel Orozco, Laura Owens, Katie Paterson, R. H. Quaytman, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Xaviera Simmons, Taryn Simon, Alexandre Singh, Agathe Snow, Ryan Trecartin, Adrián Villar Rojas, Danh Vo, Sharif Waked, Jonas Wood, and Haegue Yang.

Novelists and Poets Respond to Guggenheim Artworks
As a means of engaging the dynamic between word and image, a group of eminent novelists and poets have contributed reflections on selected works in the exhibition. Enlivening the complex relationship between literature and art—in particular the ancient tradition of ekphrasis, the verbal representation of the visual—the resulting polyphony signals the interpretive potential that lies within each object and performance on display. These texts are available in the Guggenheim app, at, and in booklets located throughout the museum.

Storylines includes texts by Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, John Banville, Michael Cunningham, Mark Z. Danielewski, Edwidge Danticat, Helen DeWitt, Denise Duhamel, James Frey, Neil Gaiman, Francisco Goldman, Kenneth Goldsmith, Kathryn Harrison, Christian Hawkey, Shelley Jackson, Kevin Killian, Yusef Komunyakaa, Chris Kraus, Chang-rae Lee, Ben Lerner, Jonathan Lethem, John Menick, Rick Moody, Joyce Carol Oates, Téa Obreht, Annie Proulx, Mary Ruefle, Tomaž Šalamun, Enrique Vila-Matas, Jeanette Winterson, and Meg Wolitzer.

The exhibition is organized by a curatorial team composed of Katherine Brinson, Curator, Contemporary Art; Carmen Hermo, Assistant Curator, Collections; Nancy Spector, Deputy Director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator; Nat Trotman, Associate Curator; and Joan Young, Director, Curatorial Affairs.

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