About the NGV
National Gallery of Victoria

Melbourne Winter Masterpieces

Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now
New York–Venice–Bilbao–Berlin

Exhibition Themes:

  Willem de Kooning - ...Whose name was writ in water, 1975


The exhibition is divided into nine thematic sections. The first five provide a survey of defining trends in postwar art, and the remaining four are dedicated to select themes in contemporary art.  The chosen works reflect not only the private collections that have shaped the Guggenheim holdings but also the acquisition priorities of the Guggenheim’s directors and curators during the last fifty years.

The first three sections - Postwar Abstraction in the Untied States, Postwar Abstraction in Europe and Postwar Figuration in Europe and the Americas - begin in the 1940s, a time when artists around the world grappled with the consequences of World War II.

Willem de KOONING
Dutch/American 1904–97
... Whose Name Was Writ in Water 1975
oil on canvas
195 x 223 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© Willem de Kooning/ARS, New York. Licensed by VISCOPY Australia


  Mark Rothko - Untitled, 1947

Postwar Abstraction in the United States

Artistic practice of the late 1940s and 1950s is examined in Postwar Abstraction in the United States. This era saw the emergence of the first internationally influential American avant-garde art through movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field Painting and Hard Edge Abstraction, featuring the artwork of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Ellsworth Kelly.  Mark Rothko’s Colour Field paintings, such as Untitled 1947, used abstract means to express what the artist saw as universal human emotions. The stacked rectangular fields of luminous colours inspire the kind of wonder and reverence traditionally associated with monumental religious or landscape paintings.

Untitled 1947
oil on canvas
121.0 x 90.1 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift, The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1986
© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/ARS, New York
Licensed by VISCOPY Australia

  Lucio Fontana - Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1965

Postwar Abstraction in Europe

The artworks represented in this section have been located within a broader context by including work by their European contemporaries. In Postwar Abstraction in Europe, Op Art, Kinetic Art and the Monochrome is featured in the artwork Frenchman Yves Klein, Swiss-born Jean Tinguely, Hungarian Victor Vasarely and Italian Lucio Fontana. In his work Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1965, Fontana seeks to transcend the confines of the two-dimensional surface by slashing the canvas and revealing its sculptural dimensionality.

Argentinian/Italian 1899–1968
Concetto spaziale, Attese 1965
water-based paint on canvas, white
130 x 97 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Gift, Fondazione Lucio Fontana
© Courtesy of Fondazione Lucio Fontana




  Alberto Giacometti - Nose 1974

Postwar Figuration in Europe and the Americas

Alberto Giacometti’s Nose from 1974 is a highlight of the section on Postwar Figuration in Europe and the Americas. Illustrating the disintegration of the figure-ground relationship and the continuing influence of Surrealism, the work summons the threatening presence of a machine gun. A number of major paintings by Latin American artists including Joaquín Torres-García and Roberto Matta, important for both their own work and their influence on American art, are also featured here.

Swiss 1901-66
Le Nez
1947, cast 1965
bronze, wire, rope, and steel, ed. 5/6
81.0 x 97.5 x 39.4 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© Alberto Giacometti/ADAGP, Paris. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia
Photo by David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York




  Dan Flavin - Untitled (to Jan and Ron Greenberg) 1972-1973

Art of the 1960s and 1970s: Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, and Conceptual Art

In Art of the 1960s and 1970s: Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, and Conceptual Art, Dan Flavin’s work Untitled (To Jan & Ron Greenberg) 1972-1973 uses commercially manufactured fluorescent tubes to create a sublime corridor of golden light. The use of elemental forms, industrial materials and non-hierarchical arrangements comprising repeated, modular units are characteristic of the Minimalist movement. The Minimalists are a defining influence on many of the contemporary artists in this show seen in the last four sections. Artworks by Bruce Nauman, Donald Judd, Lawrence Weiner are also included in this section. Conceptual art, which privileges ideas over objects, is central to Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #264 which has been painstakingly drawn over the course of 16 days directly onto the wall by a studio assistant following LeWitt’s rules and instructions.

American 1933–96
untitled (to Jan and Ron Greenberg) 1972–73
yellow and green fluorescent light, edition 1/3
246.4 x 213.4 x 25.4 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Panza Collection, 1991
© Dan Flavin/ARS, New York. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia
Photo by David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York




   Roy Lichtenstein - Preparedness 1968

Art of the 1960s and 1970s: Pop Art

At the same time that the Minimalists were investigating serial repetition, Pop artists in the United States were interrogating the recurrence of selected images in popular culture. Artworks by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg and two works by Roy Lichtenstein are included. Painted the year public opinion on America’s involvement with the Vietnam War was particularly topical,  Lichtenstein’s Preparedness 1968 is intended as a direct social comment. It cultivates imagery from the history of art while continuing to use the conventions of comics and advertisements.

Preparedness 1968
oil and magna on canvas, three panels
304.8 x 183 cm (each); 304.8 x 548.7 cm (overall)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/LICHTENSTEIN, New York
Licensed by VISCOPY Australian

  Suling Wang - Cryptic Butterfly 2005

Contemporary Art

The five postwar sections provide a context for the second half of the exhibition that is dedicated to contemporary works of art, defined here as those made since the mid 1970s, with the majority created after 1990. Four clear themes emerge from the selected contemporary art works: The Legacy of Pop, The Natural World, Constructed Worlds, and Between Public and Private.

Suling WANG
Taiwanese/English 1968–
Cryptic Butterfly 2005
oil and acrylic on canvas
276 x 233 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with a special International Director’s Council fund in memory of Elaine Terner Cooper, with contributions by Catherine Adler, Steven Ames, Tiqui Atencio, Ruth Baum, Karen and Martin Berger, Gail Engelberg, Linda Fischbach, Ira Harris, Barbara Horowitz, Fern Hurst, Robert and Ellen Jaffe, Sidney Kohl, Denise LeFrak, Linda Macklowe, Cargill and Donna MacMillan, Lyn Ross, Rachel Rudin, Simonetta Seragnoli, and Carolyn Wade
© Suling Wang, courtesy of Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

  Jeff Koons - Sandwiches, 2000

Contemporary Art: The Legacy of Pop

In The Legacy of Pop we see a significant body of works that draw on the on the subject matter and approaches pioneered by Pop artists in the 1960s, including objects and imagery from daily life, representations of celebrities, and the use of vivid colours and the techniques of mass reproduction. Among the works that reflect this legacy are the large-scale Easyfun-Ethereal series of paintings produced by Jeff Koons for his Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, commission. Koons transforms images appropriated from magazine advertisements into new compositions, many dominated by surreal and humorous portraits of anthropomorphised foodstuffs.

American 1955–
Sandwiches (from EasyFun-Ethereal) 2000
oil on canvas
304.8 x 426.7 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
© Jeff Koons

  Olafur Eliasson - The horizon series 2002

Contemporary Art: The Natural World

Just as portraiture is a virtually timeless subject, so too is landscape, and here we see many fresh interpretations of The Natural World. Included in this section is a work by Olafur Eliasson titled The Horizon Series, 2002. These cumulative grids offer a sense of the slow progression of geological activity, as Eliasson is interested in the disjuncture between the real and the represented and the human experience of both. Thrown into a new spotlight through the use of concepts such as ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’, the natural world has long held artists interests and hearts. The works in this section do not however invite us to admire gentle bucolic scenes or pine after a life on the land. Instead, nature is used as a location in which experience and perception can be investigated, subverted or critiqued.

Danish 1967–
The horizon series 2002
40 chromogenic prints, ed. 6/6
222.1 x 555.9 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the International Director’s Council and Executive Committee members: Ruth Baum, Edythe Broad, Elaine Terner Cooper, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, Harry David, Gail May Engelberg, Shirley Fiterman, Nicki Harris, Dakis Joannou, Linda Macklowe, Peter Norton, Tonino Perna, Elizabeth Richebourg Rea, Mortimer D. A. Sackler, Simonetta Seragnoli, David Teiger, and Elliot K. Wolk
© Olafur Eliasson

   Thomas Demand - Archive 1995

Contemporary Art: Constructed Worlds

The works found in Constructed Worlds engulf the viewer in a virtual reality of the artist’s making through a variety of media. These include sets of interiors that do not exist but become ‘real’ in the pictures made of them such as Thomas Demand’s Archive 1995. Demand’s photographs of life-size models are based on real locations at which events of historic or popular significance have taken place. Archive refers to the private holdings of Nazi propagandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.  Another work in Constructed Worlds is presented in the NGV foyer; Nam June Paik’s spectacular, organic TV Garden. Involving hundreds of plants and small televisions, this work leaves open the question of whether we are dealing with a symbiosis of nature and technology, or whether the new media are leading us back into the jungle with their disordered mass of rampant images.

German 1964–
Archive 1995
silver dye bleach print (Ilfochrome), face-mounted to acrylic, edition 4/5
183.8 x 238 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the Young Collectors Council
© Thomas Demand/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

   Felix Gonzalez-Torres - Untitled (Public Opinion) 1991

Contemporary Art: Between Public and Private

The final section of the exhibition Between Public and Private presents a number of works that address issues of identity, often evoking the body literally, metaphorically and socially. The majority of the artists included here—Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Marina Abramovic´ and Maurizio Cattelan—use their self-image as a major component in their work. Felix Gonzalez-Torres'furtive 300 kilogram spill of cellophane-wrapped, black liquorice rod candy, Untitled (Public Opinion) 1991refers to the heightened sense of nationalism the artist perceived in America during the first Gulf war, war and the force of collective public opinion. This final section of the exhibition also presents works from the last thirty years that use a diversity of media and formal approaches to investigate the permeable and often fragile boundary between the public and private.

After visiting Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now visitors will be left with the knowledge of what artists have made of their world during our life time.  It is bound to make you reflect upon the fascinating complexities of world we share today.

Cuban/American 1957–96
‘Untitled’ (Public Opinion) 1991
black rod liquorice candy, individually
wrapped in cellophane (endless supply)
dimensions variable
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts Museum Purchase Program
© The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.
Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

NGV: Art like never before