Monday, 13 June 2011

Guggenheim Museum New York

The permanent collection at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, USA.
For further details see By Larissa Woolf, Arts Editorial Contributor

The Guggenheim Museum is one of the landmark museums that should without a doubt be top of the list for museums to visit in New York. It is a collection of art from the mid nineteenth century to the present day and presents an incredibly rich, in depth and challenging portrayal of modern art whilst also showcasing some of the world’s finest modern and abstract paintings from the likes of masters such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Kandinsky. Opened in 1937 it began with the collection of its founder, Solomon R Guggenheim, which he transformed into a public foundation that would exhibit but also preserve his vast collection of art. Housed in its impressive white, circular unmistakable building the Guggenheim becomes an exploration and celebration of modernism and abstraction.

One of the first paintings on view is Van Gogh’s “Mountains in St Remy” which he painted whilst he was recuperating from his psychiatric problems in an asylum. Its swirling waves and rich, bold colours portray Van Gogh’s enthusiasm for nature, landscapes but also his vivid imagination. More arresting is the emotional emergency of the picture and the feeling that in his painting he is healing himself. Similarly we see Paul Gauguin returning to a state of primitivism in his painting ‘Haeve Mae Tahiti’ and his idyllic vista of island life. His move towards a simpler, more idealised way of life is reflected in his art and style. It was after 1918 however that Guggenheim and his wife collected solely non objective art. Their belief in the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction and the bringing together of multiple viewpoints simultaneously to create a pure, direct way of looking at art was at the core of their interests and philosophy.

In Pablo Picasso’s painting, ‘Woman Ironing’ we see how Picasso’s bleak colour scheme of blues, whites and greys merge together to form a metaphor for the misfortune of the working poor. Her head hangs heavy, her angular body is unsettling and one can really feel the burden of her body. The iron forms an anchor for her body and the painting and we can see how the space created between her arms and body prefigures cubism and Pablo’s future investigation of space and volume. One of the most striking paintings in the collection is Robert Delauney’s ‘Eiffel Tower’. Tall, imposing we see how he uses angular patches of light and shadow to shatter the tower into fragments; almost as though it was alive. Delauney was fascinated by light and he used the multiple perspectives and fractured surfaces, reminiscent of cubism, to form a grotesque picture of the tower – surely one of the best known icon’s of modernity of its time. In fact as world war one began its rampage through Europe we see its effect on the art of the time as many later works are just a collection of hard to define shapes – a mass of unrecognisable objects and subjects.

For me one of the most beautiful objects in the collection is Constant Brancusi’s bronze sculpture, ‘The Muse’. A smooth, oval, idealised head which has no facial features is balanced by an arm which is resting on a wooden base. Brancusi celebrates the notion that a woman is the muse for aesthetic art and the simplification of form. He reduces the human figure to its essence and thus has created not only an object of aesthetic significance but a sculpture of immense and inspiring beauty.
The Guggenheim museum in New York represents a vital chapter in the history of modern art and its importance as a collection is of supreme, undeniable importance.

For further details and to plan your visit, go to

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