Arts Curriculum

Featuring more than one hundred works from the Guggenheim Museum’s collection, The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910–1918 focuses on the years leading up to and including World War I, a period of rapid change in the history of modern art, when many revolutionary styles and approaches were developed and introduced to the viewing public. This Resource Unit focuses on select works in the exhibition and provides suggestions for exploring both the visual arts and other areas of the curriculum.

Themes

Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Franz Marc
Franz Marc
Vasily Kandinsky
Vasily Kandinsky

Exhibition Overview


The years 1910 to 1914 mark a period of profound innovation in the history of art. In 1910, Roger Fry coined “Post-Impressionism” on the occasion of the exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists, and in doing so introduced modernist styles to London. Cubism, with its fractured and faceted subjects, achieved full recognition in Paris by 1912, and the movement sparked new artistic directions in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Russia. The more expressionistic manifestations of art were at an equally radical stage in Germany and Austria; Vasily Kandinsky wrote his seminal treatise On the Spiritual in Art in late 1911 (published 1912) and abstraction took hold. By 1914, the rapid acceleration of modernist production had reached a crescendo that was largely squelched—along with the international spirit that in many ways defined prewar modernism—by the onset of war.

Displaying over one hundred paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910–1918 explores the simultaneity of artistic phenomenon across national borders and the increasing breakdown of representational elements in favor of abstraction. Artists including Georges Braque, Umberto Boccioni, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Kazimir Malevich, Franz Marc, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso provide ample evidence of the richness and complexity of production during these pivotal years leading up to World War I.

Perhaps the most important innovation that emerged from the School of Paris was Cubism, whose leading practitioners were Braque and Picasso. Paul Cézanne’s geometrized compositions largely inspired them to use the simplified and faceted forms, along with the flattened spatial planes, that came to be associated with the initial phase known as Analytic Cubism. The technique blossomed with stunning rapidity and led to further artistic experimentation among the Parisian avant-garde. Delaunay and Léger, for instance, both explored fragmentation and simultaneity of both perception and the passage of time through their dynamic presentations of largely urban subject matter.

In a stylistic idiom that integrated Cubist and Divisionist techniques, the Italian Futurists glorified the energy and speed of modern life together with the dynamism and violence of the new technological society. Founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and including such artists as Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini, the movement sought to represent the experience of the modern metropolis—namely, the overstimulation of the individual’s senses—by portraying multiple phases of motion simultaneously as well as the interpenetration of objects and their environment through superimposing different chromatic planes.

Almost in tandem with Italian Futurism, Malevich developed a Russian version, and described most of his work from 1912 to 1915 as “Cubo-Futurist.” This Cubist fragmentation of space allied to the Futurist synchronicity of shifting forms was taken up briefly by Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Liubov Popova, and other members of the Russian avant-garde. Moreover, in 1911 Larionov developed a personal abstract style later known as Rayonism, which placed an emphasis on dynamic, linear light rays.

In Germany and Austria, artists such as Kandinsky, Marc, and Egon Schiele pioneered Expressionism, a very elastic concept that refers to art that emphasizes the extreme expressive properties of pictorial form in order to explore subjective emotions and inner psychological truths. Although much influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, and Vincent van Gogh, the Expressionists departed even further from traditional notions of recording the appearance of reality than had the Post-Impressionists or the Symbolists.

The growth of modernist groups, and the unprecedented output of artist manifestos and treatises, played a significant role in the spread of these radically new approaches to artmaking. Likewise, just as one could freely travel in Europe without a passport during this time, so too were ideas transported across borders; many artists collaborated and exhibited with colleagues outside of their native countries. The Great Upheaval will therefore offer a chronological survey of the period, as opposed to organizing by movement or country.

The exhibition’s title not only captures the artistic dynamism of the period, as artists increasingly experimented with fractured surfaces, but also evokes the destruction and disillusionment ushered in with World War I. The title is specifically inspired by “Die grosse Umwälzung” (The Great Revolution/Upheaval), a text that was included in an announcement for the first Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) group exhibition around December 1911. Kandinsky and Marc, two artists whose work is integral to the museum’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, organized Der Blaue Reiter in late 1911. Revealing their internationalist spirit, the artists invited many colleagues from outside of Germany to participate in their groundbreaking exhibitions in Munich. It is thus fitting that this presentation tracing the cross-pollination of ideas in the 1910s should also mark the occasion of the onehundredth anniversary of Der Blue Reiter. As The Great Upheaval will attest, this was indeed not a time marked by imitation but rather a moment of collaboration, interchange, synthesis, and, above all, radical innovation.

The Great Upheaval is curated by Tracey Bashkoff, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, and Megan Fontanella, Assistant Curator of Collections and Provenance.

This exhibition is supported by a grant from the Joseph and Sylvia Slifka Foundation.

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