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Boilerplate is safe box office, and we've gotten our share lately. So it's great that the Guggenheim Museum is giving us the opposite in its major fall exhibition, "Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936."
With its high percentage of unfamiliar names, the exhibition won't pull crowds. Visitors with a stake in art-as-uplift will find the story it tells mystifying, if not perverse. I found the whole thing totally engrossing: a survey-style piece of investigative history with a bomb ticking away inside. --Holland Cotter, New York Times, October 10, 2010
This book, full of high-quality illustrations of seldom seen works, is above all worth it for the essays that accompany it. It is the catalogue for the current show running at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC which centers on a strangely enough rarely-studied aspect of XXth-century art: the craving of many artists after WWI for a return to a more classic approach of their art, going back to ancient Greek roots. This trend was pervasive among the big household names (Picasso, Léger...) but also among lesser-known artists (who actually did not pass the test of time, since they are all but forgotten today, such as French painter Yves Alix). Now, this book is disturbing in that it shows that this return to classicism has a twofold interpretation: on the one hand, it is an attempt by some to escape and forget the horrors of WWI, but on the other hand, it is a harbinger of what is soon to come: the lifeless and boring works of Kolbe or Ziegler (the latter a very important pawn in nazi cultural policy, his pathetically dull painting "the Four Elements", a centerpieceof thisexhibition, prominently hanging above Hitler's desk)are a sinister reminder that the period we are talking about was to end tragically. Nothing better than Otto Dix's WWI etchings describes this anguish of the prescient artist seeing before anybody else that freedom is coming to an end.
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