On the occasion of its eightieth anniversary, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is celebrating its history with a major exhibition, Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim (from February 10 to September 6, 2017). A true empire that the refined vision of Peggy Guggenheim created at two latitudes and two speeds: the accelerated one of the historic Art of This Century Gallery in New York—where many famous names in American art made their debut—and the slower and more secluded one of her palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal. Two worlds that, since the mid-1940s until the height of the sixties have observed and shared the most significant developments in the art of the first half of the 20th century.
THE CREATION OF THE PERMANENT COLLECTION
The exhibition, presented in the spaces of the iconic building in New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, offers a splendid selection of the artists who made up the original core of the collection begun by Solomon Guggenheim and the artist of German origin Hilla von Rebay, both of whom were fascinated by the abstractionism of the early decades of the 20th century; to this are added the Impressionist works of the Justin K. Thannhauser collection and a group of works by European Expressionists collected by the German gallerist Karl Nierendorf. It is an extraordinary opportunity to see the permanent collection in its entirety, especially since it also provides the possibility to discover some masterpieces unknown to the American public.
THE RESTORATION AND ITS DISCOVERIES
Among these, Jackson Pollock’s celebrated Alchemy (1947) will be the focus of an exhibition in its own right entitled Jackson Pollock: Exploring Alchemy at the Guggenheim’s Sackler Center for Arts Education. After a process of restoration that has taken many years and was carried out by an international team at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, this masterpiece by one of the most influential American artists of the postwar period which normally hangs in the Venetian museum is now able to reveal technical details to the public in New York that throw new light on the manner of its creation and on the materials used. Although the literature often describes Alchemy as a painting in shades of gray, the restoration has in fact uncovered a palette of about 19 different colors of varying degrees of brightness.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM AND THE BEGINNINGS
The story of this painting and its creator is inevitably linked to that of Peggy Guggenheim and her famous gallery/museum on 57th Street. Without the opportunities to show his work given to him by the Art of This Century in the early forties, the encouragement, the introduction onto the market and, not least, the monthly stipend that she paid him so that he could devote himself entirely to art, Jackson Pollock would not have become one of the best-known painters of our time. It is no accident that the work on show was part of the group of Peggy’s favorite paintings that she decided to take with her to Venice, where she settled permanently after 1947. It is known that Pollock started to paint it by laying the canvas on the floor only after 1945, when he left New York for the countryside on Long Island. So Alchemy speaks of a golden period of his production, one capable of sparking off new artistic worlds that was destined to have a great influence.
“DRIPPING ON TABLECLOTH”
The exhibition, constructed entirely around this one piece, takes the liberty to pass over the now familiar aspects of Pollock’s career and dwell instead on technical ones. As well as revealing curious details (the support is not the traditional reinforced sheet of canvas, but a collection of dishtowels, the analysis and cleaning of Alchemy has brought to light a kind of grid and a treatment of the space of the picture that is different from the usual chaotic image, reflecting a controlled and ritualized use of the dripping technique. Exactly as the American critic Clement Greenberg’s interpretation of his work had suggested.
Even though, on close examination, the tangle of colors and the title of the work speak volumes about the other, and perhaps more deep-seated face of Pollock’s approach, steeped in shamanism and Native American culture, evidence of a vital and implacable expressive force.
New York // until September 7, 2017
"Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim"
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128, Stati Uniti
1. Jackson Pollock
Oil, aluminum, alkyd enamel paint with sand, pebbles, fibers, and broken wooden sticks on canvas
114.6 x 221.3 cm
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 1976
© 2016 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York