The Great Upheavel: Modern Masterpieces from The Guggenheim Collection

Canadians are in for a real treat this fall. Selections from the storied Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s collection of pre- and post-WWI art will be presented at one of Ontario’s most prestigious museums, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The Great Upheaval: Modern Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection will be on display at the AGO from November 30 to March 2, 2014.

Wealthy philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim, together with his art advisor, Hilla von Rebay, established the foundation in his name in 1937, looking to provide a haven for preserving and researching both modern and contemporary art. Over the years, their foundation has grown to include museums and galleries situated throughout the world (New York, Venice, Bilbao, and Abu Dhabi), and it’s widely considered to house some of the best collections of modern and contemporary art and design.  

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Paul Cézanne, Still Life: Plate of Peaches (Assiette de pêches), 1879–80.
Oil on canvas 23 1/2 x 28 7/8 inches (59.7 x 73.3 cm).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser, 1978.

The Great Upheaval: Modern Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection consists of nearly 70 pieces of artwork (both paintings and sculptures), all dating from 1910 to 1918, that illustrate the creative time before, during, and after World War I.

It’s hard to picture an eight-year period in the whole history of western art that witnessed such radical change,

says AGO’s interpretative planner David Wistow. He continues,

During these years, Europe experienced unprecedented social unrest, followed by catastrophic war. Due to a burgeoning scientific community, it was also grappling with the introduction of a range of innovative technologies that radically transformed daily life… It was an exciting time. Artists wanted to paint the new pace of life, the thrill of speed in their burgeoning cities.

Shown chronologically, these works really do succeed in showcasing the immense change that took place in the world between 1910 and 1918, ultimately leading to three very significant art movements: expressionism, futurism, and cubism.

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Paul Gaugin, Haere Mai, 1891. Oil on burlap, 28 1/2 x 36 inches
(72.4 x 91.4 cm).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,
Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser

Artwork from the likes of Marc Chagall, Constantin Brancusi, Vasily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso make up the majority of the exhibition. And although there will be plenty to feast your eyes on, Wistow recommends a couple of pieces in particular for their overwhelming power and ingenuity:

With over 60 works coming from New York, there is so much to choose from! But I would say that Delaunay’s Red Eiffel Tower would be a contender [for most popular piece of the exhibit] given the incredible appeal of Paris and the fame of this particular piece of engineering. Kadinsky’s Blue Mountain with its rich, jewel-like colours may also be a crowd pleaser or Marc [Chagall]’s very happy Yellow Cow.

There’s no denying the impact that all these pieces have had on the world. Not only did they lead to vast movements in art history, but they’ve also established an layperson’s perspective on issues pertaining to war, socialism, and scientific achievement.  Art, in its own way, serves as a catalyst for change and illustrates our very human emotions with the help of humble objects such as paint and clay.

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Franz Marc, Yellow Cow (Gelbe Kuh), 1911.
Oil on canvas, 55 3/8 x 74 1/2 inches (140.5 x 189.2 cm).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R.
Guggenheim Founding Collection

For 500 years, European artists had attempted to use the picture frame as a window, through which the viewer could see a believable illusion of the real world — a person, a landscape, a still life. Now in this eight-year span, more and more avant-garde artists called for the rejection of this tired approach. They began to distort traditional notions of illusionistic space, exaggerate and simplify forms, forsaking detail for intense, unrealistic colours and broad, rough brushstrokes,

reflects Wistow.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Nude (Nu), 1917.
Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 45 7/8 inches (73 x 116.7 cm).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R.
Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift

The Great Upheaval: Modern Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection has been curated by the Guggenheim Museum’s Tracey Bashkoff (senior curator, Collections and Exhibitions) and Megan Fontanella (associate curator, Collections and Provenance) and was originally presented in New York from February to June 2011. If you’d like to purchase advance tickets online, you may visit and search its tickets page, or if you’re in the neighbourhood, you can go directly to the museum and purchase your tickets at the gallery box office during its normal hours of operation.

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Georges Seurat, Peasant Woman Seated in the Grass (Paysanne assise dans l’herbe), 1883.
Oil on canvas, 15 x 18 inches (38.1 x 46.2 cm).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R.
Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift

The impact on the whole of the 20th century was huge,

asserts Wistow, reflecting on this particular exhibit’s importance and the artwork’s impact and ramifications. He concludes,

The Art Gallery of Ontario is delighted to bring this show to Toronto, as the only venue anywhere, outside of New York.

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Henri Rousseau, The Football Players (Les joueurs de football), 1908.
Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 31 5/8 inches (100.3 x 80.3 cm).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


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