press release

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is pleased to present Selections from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection II , the second exhibition in a series that began in 2009 and will continue until 2012. This series aims to show the public selected works from the Bilbao collection, put them in context and thus offer a detailed overview of the collection’s focus and orientation.

The show, curated by Petra Joos, Deputy Director for Museum Activities at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, explores the work of a series of influential European artists who, with their diverse forms of creative expression, burst onto the ideological, economic, social, and political scene of the 1970s and 80s and instigated a fascinating artistic debate.

The presentation begins in Gallery 103 with a suite of sixteen large-format paintings by Georg Baselitz (Deutschbaselitz, Germany, 1938), which together form the work entitled Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale (2008) and are presented here for the first time since their recent acquisition for the Bilbao collection. Georg Baselitz was one of the most prominent European creators of the post–World War II era whose work continues to serve as a significant reference point for recent generations.

His creative originality first blossomed in the late 1960s, when he began to paint his motifs upside down, reorienting the subject in order to reexamine it in a way that subverted traditional compositional rules. In the 1970s he experimented with painting with his hands, and later with his feet, as a technique, a manner of engaging with the image not just mentally and spiritually but also as a product of the body’s physical actions.

Each of the sixteen canvases in Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale follows the same compositional pattern: an image of the dictators Lenin and Stalin depicted upside down and sitting next to each other. This composition was inspired by Otto Dix’s famous portrait, The Artist’s Parents II (Die Eltern des Künstlers II , 1924). As in many of his works, Baselitz refers here to a specific art-historical precedent, reinterpreting it in his own way; in this case, he chose to depict the dictators Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin with a clearly critical intent. The former is portrayed as “Mrs. Lenin” wearing a skirt and high-heeled shoes (a reference to his love of disguise); and the latter is depicted as “the nightingale” in reference to his famously splendid voice and his love of poetry. Here Baselitz also references a poem by the German writer Johannes R. Becher (1891–1958), in which he refers to Stalin as a “nightingale”.

Each of the sixteen paintings in the series bears an individual title comprising a pun or an enigmatic phrase and contains references to modern and contemporary artists such as Cecily Brown, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Philip Guston, Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Willem de Kooning, Jeff Koons, and Piet Mondrian, among others.

Selections from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection II continues in Gallery 105 with works by six artists who are representative of the broad spectrum of artistic and political positions that emerged in reaction to the tumultuous postwar years: Christian Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer, Jannis Kounellis, Richard Long, Gerhard Richter, and Francesc Torres.

Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer complement Baselitz extraordinarily in their explorations as representatives of German art of the latter half of the 20th century. Gerhard Richter (Dresden, Germany, 1932) investigates reality as if it were a vast archive of images with very different meanings and interpretations through a prolific and varied oeuvre that encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, and installations. Seascape (Seestück , 1998) is an immense ocean landscape which blurs the boundary between photography and painting.

In his early childhood, Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, Germany, 1945) witnessed the aftermath of war and the subsequent reconstruction of his country. His works The Land of the Two Rivers (Zweistromland, 1995) and The Renowned Orders of the Night (Die Berühmten Orden der Nacht , 1997) illustrate how this artist combines elements drawn from his own culture with more universal themes like history, mysticism, and spirituality in his artistic practice.

Four other European artists from the same era complete this second presentation of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection. In the late 1960s Jannis Kounellis (Piraeus, Greece, 1936), who gained artistic maturity in Italy, came to the conclusion that postwar European society lacked the appropriate aesthetic forms through which to reflect the fragmentary nature of contemporary civilization. In his work Untitled (1988), organic and industrial elements coexist in a kind of poetic confrontation between nature and culture.

The work of Richard Long (Bristol, 1945) stems from long rambling walks through wild landscapes, experiences of nature that the artist later transposes into sculptures, mud drawings or stone installations. In Bilbao Circle (2000), made up of slate pieces from the ancient Delabole quarry in England, spectators can relive the artist’s wanderings by walking around the sculpture.

In his work, Francesc Torres (Barcelona, 1948) reflects on history, memory, and the human condition. His multimedia installation Too Late for Goya (1993) consists of video projections showing scenes from six significant political events of the 20th century: the Russian Revolution (1917), Hitler’s rise to power (1933), the Yalta Conference (1945), the proclamation of the State of Israel (1948), the Algerian War of Independence (1963), and Gorbachev’s ascent to power (1985). This material relates past and present through a reproduction of one of Goya’s engravings, and a television monitor showing a live CNN broadcast. A sculpture of a chimpanzee, acting as a mute witness, completes the scene.

Finally, since the late 1960s Christian Boltanski (Paris, 1944) has been working on installations that explore the power of photography to transcend individual identity and act as shared cultural memory. The work Humans (1994) consists of over one hundred thousand images of people, re-photographed from newspapers, police files, and family photo albums. Displayed in a small room dimly lit by light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, the work evokes the intimate atmosphere of a memorial, subtly hinting at the Holocaust and other 20th-century catastrophes.

This exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to visually review, through the works in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection, the artistic debate that swept across Europe in the 1970s and 80s, a period of major ideological, economic, social, and political transformations which, on the artistic plane, inspired a more intimate and personal reflection on human existence.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection

The creation of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao entailed making a commitment to build up a collection that would complement the works owned by the other museums in the Guggenheim Network (the Permanent Collection) but that would also have its own unique identity and distinctive qualities.

In keeping with this commitment, today the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection includes a total of 113 works by 69 different artists which span the years from 1950 to the present day. In terms of contents, the works can be divided into four main groups.

The first contains singular masterpieces, works that other artists have turned to for inspiration and which can be considered as having played a decisive role in the art history of the latter half of the 20th century, or which stand out as the recapitulation or culmination of a particular artist’s creative career, such as Lightning with Stag in Its Glare (Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch, 1958–85) by Joseph Beuys.

The second category includes suites of representative works by certain artists which can be regarded as compendiums of their artistic careers. Such is the case of the series of works by Anselm Kiefer.

Basque and Spanish art occupies a special place in the collection and in the museum’s acquisitions policy. Thus, one third of the 113 pieces in the collection were created by Basque and Spanish artists of different generations: the older generation, represented by Eduardo Chillida, Antoni Tàpies, Jorge Oteiza, and Antonio Saura; the intermediate generation of Cristina Iglesias, Susana Solano, Juan Muñoz, and Txomin Badiola; and the young artists who have made a name for themselves in the last ten years, such as Ibon Aranberri, Asier Mendizabal, and Itziar Okariz.

Finally, the Bilbao collection boasts a significant number of site-specific works, pieces created expressly to be displayed in the spaces of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, making the most of the building’s extraordinary architectural singularity. This category includes works such as Installation for Bilbao (1997) by Jenny Holzer and the massive sculpture installation entitled The Matter of Time (1994–2005) by Richard Serra.

Selections from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection II
Kurator: Petra Joos

Künstler: Georg Baselitz, Christian Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer, Jannis Kounellis, Richard Long, Gerhard Richter, Francesc Torres