Today the Guggenheim Museum opens an exhibition of mid-century abstract art from its permanent collection, with more than 100 paintings and sculptures installed on the ramps below the rotunda. This breathtaking view of paintings and sculpture, most of which was acquired by the museum’s second director, James Johnson Sweeney between 1952 and 1960, explores the dramatic transformations that occurred in art during the post war years.
Installed from the ground floor up, the show begins with works by painters of the New York School including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and Jackson Pollack (with two surprising early pieces by Robert Rauschenberg) and sculptures by Herbert Farber and Theodore Roszak, among others. It gradually unfolds through work by European artists of the CoBRA group, the Art Brut movement, and a group of avant-garde painters whose work was labeled “Art Informel.”
Art of Another Kind, as the show is titled, aptly characterizes an international movement in which painters tossed out their easels, found bigger brushes, nailed canvas onto huge walls or simply dropped it on the floor, bought any kind of paint that seemed right at the moment, and began combining all kinds of found matter into the surface of larger and larger paintings. “Action Painting,” a term coined by critic Harold Rosenberg, captures the idea of the artist subconsciously enacting an internal struggle through the application of paint in often highly textured surfaces that could be interpreted as dramatic investigations into self, by self, during the Atomic Age.
As I ambled up the ramp I noticed that most of the work installed up to round 6 (of 9) had been made between 1949 and 1956. Within the brief span of seven years, the course of modern art had been permanently altered by an international avant-garde movement spurred, in part, by a rejection of failed political models. On a slightly different note, this particular group of paintings by well known as well as more obscure artists has rarely been seen as a collection. For these reasons, the exhibition offers a long overdue meditation on what is really new in art at the time of its making.
Above: Carmen Cicero,Odradek, 1959.
Photo: Peggy Roalf
Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960 continues at the Guggenheim Museum through September 12, 2012.