Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936 explores the classicizing aesthetic that followed the immense destruction of World War I. Accompanying the Guggenheim's exhibition of the same name, it examines the interwar period in its key artistic manifestations and their interpretations of classical values and aesthetics: the poetic dream of antiquity in the Parisian avant garde of Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso; the politicized revival of the Roman Empire under Benito Mussolini by artists such as Giorgio de Chirico and Mario Sironi; and the austere functionalist utopianism of the Bauhaus, as well as, more chillingly, the pseudo-biological classicism, or Aryanism, of nascent Nazi society. This presentation of the seismic transformations in interbellum French, Italian and German culture encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, film, fashion and the decorative arts. Among the other artists surveyed here are Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, André Derain, Gino Severini, Jean Cocteau, Le Corbusier, Amédée Ozenfant, Madeleine Vionnet, Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Carlo Carrà, Giorgio Morandi, Massimo Campigli, Achille Funi, Ubaldo Oppi, Felice Casorati, Giuseppe Terragni, Gio Ponti, Arturo Martini, Georg Kolbe, Oskar Schlemmer, Otto Dix, Georg Scholz, Georg Schrimpf, Wilhelm Schnarrenberger and August Sander.
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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
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