Virginia Woolf once remarked that “on or about December 1910, human character changed.” Whether it actually did is debatable, but the curators of “The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection 1910–1918” use that year to start their exhibition of works from a tumultuous decade of innovation in European fine art.
The works, drawn from New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, trace the evolution of painters like Marc Chagall, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso as they explored avant-garde forms. The Art Gallery of Ontario will be the only Canadian institution to host this exhibition, which debuted at the Guggenheim two years ago.
During her introductory remarks at this morning’s press preview, Guggenheim curator Tracey Bashkoff explained that the show’s title “captures how the artists themselves characterized their moment that they were living in and working in. It’s also a handy way for us to look back at the period from our modern perspective and see the innovation that their work represents, and the impact it had on the course of 20th-century art.”
The galleries are arranged chronologically, beginning with works from influential post-Impressionists like Paul Cézanne and Georges Seurat. The exhibition emphasizes historical context with text panels about cultural events, the lives of the artists, and rapid technological changes. Screens show footage ranging from stylish tango dancers to Charlie Chaplin’s first outing as “the Little Tramp.” The chronological approach allows a viewer to appreciate of how key artists radically changed their styles to meet a radicalizing world.
The exhibit ends with a gallery devoted to works created during the First World War. Though few of the paintings directly comment on the conflict, their mood captures the violence of the era, of a world being torn apart. The whole thing is summarized by a light projection based on an Albert Einstein quote, which patrons will encounter on the way to the show’s gift shop: “the world cannot change without changing our thinking.”