9 months ago

GAM 14 Exhibiting Matters

ISBN 978-3-86859-854-4

“Peggy Guggenheim

“Peggy Guggenheim Collection” at the Venice Biennale, 1948 and “Biennnale di Venezia,” Venice, 1948 When the first post-WW2 Venice Biennale was organized in 1948, Peggy Guggenheim brought her collection of modern art to Europe. The organizers decided to give Peggy the Greek pavilion to show her collection, since Greece could not participate because of the civil war. It was the first time that Europeans had a chance to see the works of the most important modern artists exhibited together, including those that had almost been forgotten in Europe (e.g. Picasso, Miró, Ernst, Mondrian), representatives of the Russian avant-garde (Malevich and Lissitzky), and American abstract expressionists (e.g. Pollock, Motherwell, Gorky). Both in the catalog and on display, artists were presented as individuals regardless of their country of origin. When the first major post-war exhibition of modern art organized by Europeans (documenta 1, Kassel 1955) it was strictly Western European, it included neither the Russian avant-garde nor the Americans. The exhibition of Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice 1948 anticipated what would some ten years later become the modern canon. In the next few years the collection was exhibited in several Italian cities (Milano and Florence 1949) and subsequently in Amsterdam, Zurich, and Brussels (1951). Because Willem Sandberg, the director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, helped Peggy bring her collection to Europe, she decided to give the Stedelijk five paintings by Jackson Pollock. These were the first Pollock paintings that entered a European museum collection. It is interesting to note that this international exhibition, based on individualism, modernism, and internationalism, was presented within another kind of international exhibition, the Venice Biennale, which is structured by nationalities and national pavilions and as such does not represent the modern canon, as each national pavilion could have its own interpretation of art. “International Exhibition of Arts,” Berlin, 1951 Three years later, in 1951, a major exhibition titled “Internationale Kunstausstellung” was organized in Berlin that included artists from 38 countries, from Denmark and Columbia to Vietnam and Nigeria. However, the most notable characteristic of this global exhibition, held in the Soviet zone, was its anti-modernism. Most of the works were primarily on social themes or explicitly socialist-realistic. This was another kind of international exhibition that could be seen in those early years after the Second World War. It represented an opposite understanding of art from the one shown at the Peggy Guggenheim exhibition in Venice and later at documenta. 52

“XX Century Masterpieces,” Paris and London, 1952, and “Berliner Neue Gruppe mit französischen Gästen,” Berlin, 1952 When in 1952 the Congress for Cultural Freedom organized the art festival “Masterpieces of the 20th Century” it included an art exhibition with the same title. James Johnson Sweeney, the established former curator of MoMA newly appointed director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, curated the exhibition. The exhibition was intended to assemble the iconic works of modern art and show them in Paris and London. Although the curator was an American, the exhibition included only European modern art. Some of the most important works, such as Kandinsky, Klee, Duchamp, Leger, and Mondrian, came from American museums and collections, including four Suprematist paintings by Malevich from the MoMA collection. It is worth noticing that, at a time in post-war Europe when memories of modern art were gradually beginning to emerge, some of the most avant-garde works, not yet seen in Europe, were brought from US collections by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, including those by Malevich, whose work could not be seen in his home country. The same year that this American-organized exhibition of European modern art traveled to Paris and London, another exhibition of modern art entitled “Berliner Neue Gruppe mit Französischen Gästen” was organized in Berlin and included works of primarily post-war German and French artists such as Jean Bazaine, Maurice Esteve, Pierre Soulage, Raoul Ubac, Max Pechstein, Karl-Schmid Rottluff, Karl Hartung, and Werner Heldt. This was another example of a contemporary international exhibition organized by artists in Germany in lead up to the first documenta in 1955, a major European international survey of 20th century modern art, but without the Russian/ Soviet avant-garde and Abstract Expressionism. “documenta 1,” Kassel 1955 53