Guggenheim celebrates immigrant roots in age of Trump
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Guggenheim celebrates immigrant roots in age of Trump

Famed New York museum is one of several to express criticism of new administration through focus on migrant artists

The Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Wikipedia/Wallygva/CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Wikipedia/Wallygva/CC BY-SA 3.0)

NEW YORK (AFP) – The Guggenheim Museum is highlighting the work of some of the visionaries who shaped its collection, using the occasion to note immigrants’ contributions to American art weeks after President Donald Trump signed a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries.

A show opening Friday in New York features works collected by founder Solomon R. Guggenheim’s niece Peggy Guggenheim, who along with art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser came to the United States to flee Nazi Germany.

Paintings and sculpture acquisitions by immigrant art dealer Karl Nierendorf, as well as those of two other Guggenheim contemporaries — German-born artist Hilla Rebay and Katherine Dreier — are on display for this tribute to the Guggenheim Foundation’s eight decades of support for radical experimentation in art.

These collectors held many works by European artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Vasily Kandinsky, the Russian painter whose art is at the heart of the Guggenheim collection, which holds 150 pieces.

There are also works by Americans like Alexander Calder, who created a series of beloved moving sculptures known as “mobiles,” Jackson Pollock, Irene Rice Pereira and Claire Falkenstein.

Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Wikipedia/Sailko/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Wikipedia/Sailko/CC BY-SA 3.0)

“It’s no secret that we’re going through times with fundamental principles like tolerance and critical thinking being challenged,” said Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, in previewing the exhibit.

“Many similar challenges faced some of the visionaries of creative expression… We find inspiration in individuals whose belief was that art can change human behavior.”

His comments were a clear reference to Trump’s conservative immigration policy.

The show is also a reminder of a time when “artists and also dealers fled an earlier war… and found refuge, home and freedom in the United States,” Armstrong added.

Ever since Trump’s election, the art world has expressed its unease in various forms, be it fashion, song, video or photography.

A streaming video performance installation that aimed to provide a forum for anti-Trump expression was shut down after it became “a flashpoint for violence,” New York’s Museum of the Moving Image said.

The Guggenheim Museum's founding collection, by Solomon Guggenheim. (Guggenheim website)
The Guggenheim Museum’s founding collection, by Solomon Guggenheim. (Guggenheim website)

And another New York venue, the Museum of Modern Art, is exhibiting works by artists from the seven predominantly Muslim countries targeted by Trump’s executive order, which is currently on hold after a series of court defeats.

‘Fertile period’

With the advent of war and Nazism in the 1930s, several of the European artists presented by Guggenheim through his public collection immigrated to the United States.

In the 1940s, New York catered to an “exciting cultural milieu where you had European and American artists encountering one another. It was just a really exciting moment. It was a really fertile period,” said curator Megan Fontanella.

In all, 160 works by 70 artists are featured in “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim,” which runs through September 6.

It includes a broad range of artists from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.

The oldest piece is a painting by Camille Pissarro from 1867. The most recent is Pollock’s “Alchemy,” from 1947.

For the curator, the Guggenheim, whose museum was established in 1939 but only occupied its spiral building near Central Park in 1959, benefited directly from the creativity of artists from abroad.

“So many artists and culture figures found refuge here and ultimately helped shaped our institution,” said Fontanella.

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