Over the past few years, there have been several exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario which excitingly provided close-ups of a plunge into a massive, disturbing and thrilling change in orientation from that of a longstanding mainstream rationality. Efforts ranging from Picasso to David Bowie have staged for us a perhaps very puzzling eschewal of embracing the ambitions of discrete figures joining with other such bounded players in order to cannily foster understanding and well-being. There we saw, by contrast, a cadre of those outsiders engaged by uncanny possibilities which seem to have little chance of meaningfully connecting to generally understood respectable ways and means.Another show, called “Surreal Things,” sought to indicate how the worlds of fashion and industrial and graphic design had become noticeably infiltrated by such initiatives. But the tenor was such as to allow for an easy assumption that only well-heeled neurotics were taking that path. However, with the current show, “The Great Upheaval,” put together by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, from out of a bravado spate of acquisitions by industrialist, Solomon R. Guggenheim, in the early years of the twentieth century, the focus has been very much sharpened in order to, as it were, give us an X-ray of processes generally eclipsed by everyday chores and pleasures.In the work above, “The Smokers” (1911-1912), by Fernand Leger, the mundane pastime becomes engulfed by the neighborhood’s own drift.
The rather dry, academic text of the catalogue for the show myopically (and diplomatically) treats the energies there as arts-confined shifts toward what the writers call “Non-objective Poetry.” They do, however, recognize that the rapid shift to industrial urbanization launched a more acute and pervasive perception that intense motions underlie the bucolic, relatively staid material stability having for so long been embraced as the bedrock of reality.
Tracing into 1930’s Italian graphics, the allure of Futurism refuses to die out. (The War had done a lot of damage to the momentum of such artists and their associations.) Here a courrier service, off like a bolt of lightning.
Here the hardware stays somewhat hard. But the software invested through human intent has taken off!
Let’s leave these things at a pitch of quiet joy. The originator of the Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim, looked to young German artist, Hilla Rebay, to guide him in developing an art collection that would matter. Rebay was an enthusiast of the new avenue and a personal friend of many of the artists we have been considering. The unspoken drama here is that this art-world coup was, largely unbeknown, drawing the man who had made it happen into precincts he could never be fully supportive of. The thrust of contemporary life (one hundred years after that “great upheaval” in art [only weakly assimilated]) has become heavily implicated with such factors as quantum dynamics and nano and internet technology. They, too, touch upon personal and social implications that pack a world of hard truckin’, as well as gracious treasures.