Slowly approaching ramp six on the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright Building, Lee Bontecou’s Untitled (1966) appears, from a distance, innocuous, defined by its intriguing shape and lack of color.
Upon arrival, the viewer finds a sculpture born of an unlikely, yet compositionally cohesive, amalgamation of painted steel, horseshoe crab shells, steel pipe fittings, velvet hooks, steel saw blades, fiberglass, velvet, and soot. An even closer look reveals an ominous creation that draws the viewer deeper into a conflicted world depicting the fury and vexation that’s intrinsic to womanhood in a patriarchal society.
“It’s ferocious. It has an internal violence,” said Nancy Spector, artistic director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator, in an interview following opening remarks at today’s press opening. “Jenny Holzer was ecstatic to show it.”
Bontecou’s Untitled was selected by Holzer for her Good Artists presentation, celebrating six decades in the inimitable building on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection. The first artist-curated exhibition ever mounted at the museum opens tomorrow and is on view through Jan. 12, 2020. It features some 300 works (88, including the Bontecou, never before on display), unearthed from storage and culled from the world-renowned collection by Holzer, Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Julie Mehretu, Richard Prince, and Carrie Mae Weems.
This is “the Guggenheim,” as New Yorkers call it, as you’ve never seen it before, through the lens of great living masters who tackled a new role to reinvigorate the museum’s longtime devotion to daring displays by artists who have forever transformed the global art landscape.
Holzer chose works created exclusively by women to blast a floodlight on gender disparity and the exclusion of women from the art-historical canon. Holzer’s selections include Louise Nevelson’s monumental wall sculpture Luminous Zag, Night (1971), Adrian Piper’s performative self-portrait The Mythic Being: Smoke (1974), and an installation of Chryssa’s neon works and a canvas from the 1960s and 1970s.
This rebellious exhibition embraces and reinvents the wild spirit of the mining dynasty heir, who, with the expertise of artist Hilla von Rebay, built a phenomenal collection of modern and contemporary art. Solomon Robert Guggenheim, who died a decade before the museum was relocated to its current unmistakable location, would have delighted in this show, as he wanted a “risk taking and radical” home for his passion, said Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, at the press preview.
“As part of that celebration, we decided, for the first time ever to ask artists to look at the collection,” said Armstrong. “It reconsidered the judgment of our predecessors, and with that wisdom, we hope we can make the collection even more powerful and good.”
Each of the six contemporary artist-curators had been featured in solo shows at the Guggenheim. They collaborated with Spector, supported by: Ylinka Barotto, assistant curator; Tracey Bashkoff, director of collections and senior curator; and Joan Young, director, curatorial affairs.
Seek out rare gems within each of the six installations. Linger at each level and engage in visual discourse with the artist-curators as they re-interpret the vast and wide-reaching collection through highly specialized perspectives. Highlights include:
Cai: Non-Brand 非品牌
High Gallery and Rotunda Level 1
Explores the primordial passion that ignites the creation of art by examining early figurative and otherwise unpredictable paintings and works on paper by artists known for their abstract or conceptual practices.
- Vasily Kandinsky’s Munich (circa 1901–1902)
- Piet Mondrian’s Blue Chrysanthemum (circa early 1920s)
- Mark Rothko’s Still-Life with Rope, Hammer and Trowel (circa 1937)
- Works on paper by artist Hilla Rebay, the Guggenheim’s first director
- (Don’t miss Cai’s own early figurative painting dispersed within the installation.)
Chan: Sex, Water, Salvation, or What Is a Bather?
Rotunda Level 2
Investigates the theme of bathers in Western art history and attendant ideas about water, relationships between pleasure and the human body, and exile in the canon of 20th-century art.
- Fernand Léger’s Starfish (1942)
- Lawrence Weiner’s conceptual work (1970)
- Willem de Kooning’s Whose Name Was Writ in Water (1975)
- Laurie Simmons’s photographs of dollhouse-scale bathroom scenes from the 1970s
Mehretu: Cry Gold and See Black
Rotunda Level 4
Reflects on how trauma, displacement, and anxiety in the decades after World War II found expression across cultural boundaries and in a wide range of art.
- Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion (March 1962)
- Romare Bearden’s gelatin silver print (photostat) Evening 9:10, 461 Lenox Avenue (1964)
- Matta’s Years of Fear (1941)
- David Hammons’s body print Close Your Eyes and See Black (1969)
Prince: Four Paintings Looking Right
Rotunda Level 3
Investigates the uncannily coherent formal qualities of the museum’s international holdings of abstract painting and sculpture from the 1940s and 1950s, questioning, ultimately, how taste is formed.
- Martin Barré
- Conrad Marca-Relli
- Georges Mathieu
- Kenzo Okada
- Judit Reigl
- Two canvases by Stuart Sutcliffe (an early member of the Beatles, as well as a painting formerly wrongly attributed Jackson Pollock
Weems: What Could Have Been
Rotunda Level 5
- Focuses on the formal and metaphoric resonances of a strictly black-and-white palette across different decades, mediums, and genres, and as a conduit to expose inherent biases of museum collections focused on the Western art-historical canon. Joseph Beuys’s installation Virgin (April 4, 1979)
- Franz Kline’s Painting No. 7 (1952)
- Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Gray) (1969-1970)
- Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Series (begun in 1973)
- Martin Puryear’s sculpture Bask (1976)