If you watch an unhealthy amount of TV like I do, you’ve probably seen the ads for the AGO’s The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918 exhibit. In the ad, someone says that the show is perfect cure for Toronto’s bland winter landscape. After seeing the Guggenheim exhibit on Sunday, I couldn’t agree more. While it’s not an overly large show, it’s packed with colour, colour and more colour. Oh, and yes, there are some pretty big names on display.
But while the show features some iconic works, such as Picasso’s The Accordionist and Chagall’s Paris Through The Window, this is one of those exhibits that doesn’t have a real star. While the artists featured are hardly represented in equal amounts (there are many Kadinskys but only one Malevich), at no point do you get the feeling that this is the “X and friends” exhibit. And other than the medium of painting, no one artistic approach is overly emphasized. Instead, what links the pieces on display is a particular time and place (Western Europe, 1910-1918) that was exploding with new technologies, ideas and eventually, conflict.
While the bulk of the paintings are by artists that even casual art fans (like myself) would recognize, there are some surprises thrown in. At the exhibit’s end is a painting that’s now one of my new favourites, Emil Norde’s Young Horses. It’s not the most sophisticated or innovative work out there but I like it. I also really enjoyed Mondrian’s Summer, Dune in Zeeland, another piece that I’d never seen before.
One thing I really liked about the exhibit is how it’s laid out. Paintings are organized by year, with each year from 1910-1914 getting its own space and introductory panel that provides key highlights of not just what was happening in the art world but with industry, literature and other fields. The final space is then dedicated to paintings that were created during World War One. This approach keeps everything organized, logical and allows you to better see the artists’ stylistic evolutions as well as where they’re coming from. It also means that the “big names” are nicely disturbed, which helps to prevent bottlenecks.
The presentation is super simple: White walls, concrete floors, bright lights and that’s about it. There’s plenty of space between the works, which provides ample viewing angles and allows the paintings to breath. While the set-up is undeniably plain, with paintings like Franz Marc’s Yellow Cow, you don’t really need much else.
We saw this show at noon on a Sunday, a prime time to visit the AGO. But while the exhibit was busy, it never felt crowded and I was usually able to easily read any signage as well take a good, long at the paintings. However, you want to really appreciate these works, and/or do some sketching, check this exhibit during the day on a workday. While there was no pushing or jostling, there was a lot of crowd movement, which would be rather distracting if you were trying to deeply appreciate or capture these paintings.
This show runs until March 2 so you still have time to see it. Adult tickets are $25, which is only $5 more than the museum’s general admission cost. This show is easily worth that so if you were planning on going to the AGO anyway, be sure to include this exhibit in your trip. It’s also free for AGO members.
But here’s the big question: Is it worth the $25 if you’re someone who wasn’t planning on visiting the AGO. The answer to that is maybe. I feel that if you’re someone who doesn’t care much about modern art, you won’t enjoy this show. It’s small, it’s focused and there’s a huge emphasis on how important 1910-1918 was in the art world. I can easily some people rolling their eyes at some of the paintings, as well as their descriptions.
I can also see some hardcore art fans not being overly impressed by this show. At only 60 works, all from what started as someone’s personal collection, it’s far from being a complete or thorough look at, well, anything. And besides, any hardcore art fan has likely already seen these paintings in the Guggenheim.
But if you’re someone who can spot a Picasso but maybe not name it, you’ll likely enjoy this exhibit. At minimum, it’ll brighten your day.