Following the chaos of World War I, a move emerged toward figuration, clean lines, and modeled form and away from the twodimensional abstracted spaces, fragmented compositions, and splintered bodies of Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, and other avant-garde styles of the opening of the 20th century. In response to the horrors initiated by the new machine-age warfare, artists sought to recuperate and represent the body, whole and intact. For the next decade-and-a-half, classicism-a return to order, synthesis, organization, and enduring values, rather than the prewar emphasis on innovation at all costs-dominated the discourse of contemporary art.
Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, 1918–1936 traces this interwar trend as it worked its way from a poetic, mythic idea in the Parisian avant-garde; to a political, historical idea of a revived Roman Empire, under Benito Mussolini; to a neo-Platonic High Modernism at the Bauhaus, and finally to the chilling aesthetic of nascent Nazi culture. The exhibition interweaves the key movements that proclaimed visual and thematic clarity, Purism, Novecento Italiano, and Neue Sachlichkeit, through several closely related but distinct themes. The Bilbao presentation incorporates important examples of Spanish art that adhered to this classicizing mode. While Spain remained neutral during World War I, it was not immune to the political sea change wrought by the war. In 1931 the monarchy fell, and five years later the Spanish Civil War broke out.
This vast transformation of interwar aesthetics in Western Europe encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, achitecture, film, fashion, and the decorative arts, and the show presents works by Balthus, Giorgio de Chirico, Jean Cocteau, Otto Dix, Pablo Gargallo, Hannah Höch, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pablo Picasso, or August Sander.
Chaos and Classicism was curated by Kenneth E. Silver, Guest Curator and Professor of Modern Art, New York University, assisted by Helen Hsu, Assistant Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, with Vivien Greene, Curator of 19th- and Early-20th Century Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, as curatorial advisor.