Starting 19 March through 24 July 2016, Palazzo Strozzi hosts a major exhibition bringing to Florence over one hundred works of European and American art from the 1920s to the 1960s, in a narrative that reconstructs relationships and ties across the Atlantic through the museums of two American collectors, Peggy Guggenheim and Solomon R. Guggenheim. Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, associate curator of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, the exhibition – a joint venture of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York – offers visitors an exceptional opportunity to view together parts of the collections of the museums of both Solomon and his niece Peggy through the work of some of the greatest figures in 20th century art. Opening with masterpieces by such major artists as Kandinsky, Duchamp and Max Ernst, the exhibition goes on to explore postwar developments on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Art informel of such European masters as Alberto Burri, Emilio Vedova, Jean Dubuffet and Lucio Fontana, and with work by leading figures on the American art scene from the 1940s to the 1960s: Jackson Pollock, with no fewer than eighteen works, Mark Rothko with six, and Alexander Calder with five sculptures, the so-called ‘mobiles’, alongside work by Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly and others.
The opening of this exceptional exhibition in Florence evokes a tie that goes back many years. Palazzo Strozzi was the venue that Peggy Guggenheim (who had only recently arrived in Europe) chose in February 1949 to show the collection that was later to find a permanent home in Venice. The exhibition includes twenty-five of the same works of art that were displayed in that exhibition, the first to be held in Palazzo Strozzi’s then newly-restored Strozzina cellars. The paintings, sculptures, engravings and photographs from the Guggenheim Collections in New York and Venice, as well as from a small number of other museums and private collections, offer the visitor a unique opportunity to admire and compare some of the great masterpieces which played a crucial role in defining the very concept of modern art, from Surrealism and Action Painting to Art informel and Pop Art. The works of art on display include Vasily Kandinsky’s monumental Dominant Curve (1936), which Peggy was to sell during the war (one of the “seven tragedies in her life as a collector”); Max Ernst’s The Kiss (1927), a manifesto of Surrealist Art and the painting used to advertise the Strozzina exhibition in 1949; Francis Bacon’s Study for Chimpanzee (1957), rarely shown outside Venice, of which Peggy Guggenheim was so fond that she hung it in her bedroom; works of American Abstract Expressionism such as Sam Francis’s Shining Back (1958), of Color-Field and PostPainterly Abstraction such as Frank Stella’s Gray Scramble (1968–9), and of Pop Art, such as Roy Lichtenstein’s grandiose Preparedness (1968), in which the artist turned his characteristic cartoon-like style to protest the war in Vietnam. The exhibition testifies to the importance of the two collections and confirms the crucial role played by Peggy and Solomon Guggenheim in the history of 20th century art.
Venice, Florence, New York and elsewhere. We went to the preview of this exhibition and tried to understand what artistic journey does this exhibition suggest. As the curator said: The exhibition is indeed built in the form of a journey, a return trip around the works of art, the biographies and the history of the collections. Visitors are greeted by the artists who worked between the wars, from de Chirico who painted in “his” city of Ferrara, to Kandinsky and Klee whose work tells the story of the Russian, German and then French avant-garde movements, and on up to Gabo who moved to the United States as early as in 1946. The works that symbolise this toing and froing of works of art and artists, and of the Guggenheims, their patrons, are Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise where the artist decided to “bring together” all of the work he had produced till then – we are talking about the outbreak of World War II – to make their history “portable”. In leaving Europe more than just symbolically with her collection and in bringing together so many European artists and thinkers and allowing them to flee the horror of the war, Peggy “ferried” the Old World’s avant-garde movements to the New World, thus forming new generations. When she returned to Europe with her collection immediately after the war, she created a new and dynamic humus for generations of artists. And with the exhibition held at the Strozzina in 1949, Florence was to become a cardinal point in the display of this collection that literally introduced the public to a “new world”, revolutionising the habits, styles and schools that had formed the panorama of Italian art up until that moment. Once again, this is a journey through the history of 20th century art.
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