I often have days where I need to cleanse myself from this social media soaked sphere that I get so easily sucked in to. How do I do that? With art. White walls and gold frames. Glass. Paint. Expression. History. This was where I was at last week so I went to the AGO.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (or AGO) is showing The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918 (but only until SUNDAY, March 2nd!). It’s a collection of dynamic, expressionist, and innovative art from the likes of Picasso, Delaunay, Kupka, Matisse, and many more incredible artists.
I initially thought “The Great Upheaval” was simply the name of the exhibition but it’s actually a term coined by a Russian pioneer named Vasily Kandinsky. He said the controversial work (because it was extremely non-traditional) of Cezanne and Gaugin sparked this “Great Upheaval” in the artistic world and, at the AGO, we are walked through this truly visual revolution.
The Great Upheaval occurred from 1910 to 1918. It was a time of turmoil leading up to and reflecting World War I which began in 1914, lasting until 1918. The art that has come to represent this period reflects both the excitement and anxieties of the individuals who experience these turbulent years. Along with Cezanne and Gaugin, you can bask in the brush stroked of Picasso, Seurat, Kandinsky, Matisse, Chagall, Delaunay, Kupka, and more. Their presence and expression begs me to list them all, but it’s just as safe you go see for yourself.
Never formally trained as an artist, Rousseau painted a portrait-like piece called “The Football Players” (left). With this piece he defied traditional practices with its illogical scale – the size of the trees versus the size of the subjects. Even the subjects look as though they’re posing rather than playing.
This defiance of traditional practices is seen in many of the pieces. Kandinsky, for example, used bright colours in his landscape pieces; the hills, skies, and mountains still ominous and recognizable but with blues, purples, and reds instead of greens, browns, and grays. We begin to see artists using colour to express an alternate reality; an abstraction that was so new and foreign at the time. Over time the “real world” disappears completely from Kandinsky’s work; a possible representation of the brisk industrialization of social culture.
Kupka used non-traditional colour planes to expose depth (“Planes by Colors, Large Nude,” 1909-10) while others used geometric shapes to create the illusion of flattened spaces. The exhibit sheds light on Delaunay’s destructive phase: dark lines and shadows depict a deconstructed Eiffel Tower in “Eiffel Tower with Trees” (1910). The tower became a symbol of modernity for the artist. It is here we begin to see Cubism emerge – the breaking down of form and space.
There was a move away from materialism toward a more spiritualistic perception. Two manifestos were signed by many of the artists in 1910 to promote Futurism, an artistic and literacy movement embracing modern life. A group called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1911-1914) was co-founded by a group of artists, Kandinsky being one, and they committed themselves to the externalizing of this internal paradigm shift.When the war began in 1914, the artists entered with optimism but awoke to its true horrors. For some artists, the subjects transformed into this darkness and, for others, their colours (see Matisse and Magnelli below). The backgrounds envelope the foregrounds and abstraction and anguish are ever-so-present. On a massively accepted level, the artists of The Great Upheaval lead painting and, more generally, art expression away from a pure reflection of the world and into a pure reflection of the inner soul.
I love the AGO for bringing work like this to me; like a tiny piece of pie in the greater world of things.
The Art Gallery of Ontario
Address: 317 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T 1G4, Canada
Phone: +1 416-979-6648