The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum

Guests attending the opening of The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum

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In 1930 the American businessman Solomon R. Guggenheim and his wife Irene took a trip to Europe with their art advisor, German artist Hilla Rebay. This firsthand introduction to avant-garde art led to a commitment to collecting modern—and principally abstract—paintings. Inspired to make these cutting edge works available to a wider audience, Guggenheim established a foundation in his name in 1937. Two years later the foundation opened its first exhibition venue in New York, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, whose singular focus was to demonstrate the spiritually redemptive power of abstract painting. In 1943 Guggenheim and museum director Rebay took a vital step toward establishing a permanent home for the foundation’s activities by hiring visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a museum building on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Wright’s signature spiral structure opened on October 21, 1959. Now in its 50th-anniversary year, the Guggenheim Museum continues to collect art and organize exhibitions that testify to the enduring power of abstraction.

This exhibition, which includes a selection of more than fifty paintings drawn from the museum’s holdings, simultaneously provides an introduction to the early history of the Guggenheim collection and the history of abstract art in the West from the late nineteenth to mid-20th century. The first three sections feature works from the 1880s through the 1920s by Paul Cézanne, Vasily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and other leading artists who broke with the traditional view that art should faithfully reproduce the visible world. Many of these artists retained recognizable imagery while using fundamentally abstract visual languages; some went even further and developed an entirely nonrepresentational art defined by line, color, and geometric shapes. The following sections of the exhibition consider the impact of early-20th-century abstraction and Expressionism on painting in Europe and the United States in the decades immediately following World War II, which emphasized spontaneous execution over planned composition in paintings often characterized by thickly painted and highly gestural surfaces. The final section focuses on New York, where a new generation of artists known historically as the Abstract Expressionists—among them Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko—helped establish the city as a leading center for the avant-garde.

The exhibition concludes with a gallery dedicated to the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Like the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will fulfill a mission centered on educating the public about art and will be housed in a distinctive building designed by one of the world’s most renowned contemporary architects, Frank O. Gehry. This presentation charts the building’s development since 2006—including images of design models produced during the second concept design phase in 2008, the schematic design phase that ended in July 2009, and the current design from October 2009—and provides an introduction to the mission of this new museum, which will reflect the essentially global orientation of art today and help define the parameters for collecting, presenting, and studying modern and contemporary art in the 21st century.

The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum is the first exhibition to be organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in collaboration with Tourism Development Investment Company (TDIC) as part of a program of art and cultural development leading up to the opening of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. It will be accompanied by a rich program of educational events, and audio-guide tour, and a bilingual catalogue.

Guests attending the opening of The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, digital rendering

Abu Dhabi

Read about the museum's mission and development.

The global Guggenheim network


Learn more about the global Guggenheim network.