Full abstraction – Masterpieces of the Guggenheim Collections


‘Untitled (Red)’ by Mark Rothko, 1968 © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Abstract art

If you’re a fan of abstract art, you will love this exhibition at the ING Art Center in Brussels! Do I love abstract art myself? I’m not sure. I do know that I absolutely adore the work of Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb that I saw in different European museums so far. I also can appreciate a typical Jackson Pollock painting, but I don’t really feel anything like I do when facing a work of Rothko or Gottlieb. But what about the scribbles made by Cy Twombly? I really don’t know what to think of it, even though I think I am quite openminded. The exhibition made me appreciate abstract art a lot more. I didn’t like everything, but the few pieces that I absolutely adored made it worth the visit. And I learned a lot about Peggy Guggenheim who is one of the most influential women in the history of art.

There was a ‘no pictures’ sign at the entrance, so I respected that. All of the pictures in this article come directly from the Guggenheim Museum website.

Peggy Guggenheim

Before I show you my top 5 paintings from the collection, I should introduce you to Peggy Guggenheim. You probably know the name Guggenheim from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim was her uncle and together he and Peggy constructed the most important collection of modern and contemporary art in the world!

Peggy was born in 1898. Her family became very rich in the mining business. When her father died on the Titanic in 1912 she inherited a lot of money. She developed a big interest in the art movements of her time: Surrealism, Cubism, European Abstraction and early Abstract Expressionism. She was surrounded by the right people to develop her own collection, like Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst (who was her husband). The reason why she had such an influence on the art world is because she introduced European art in the US during World War II. During this war, she brought together over 170 works of art while staying in Paris, London and New York. In her gallery in New York she exposed the work of European avant-garde artists to the American art scene. She also supported a lot of emerging American artists, like Jackson Pollock. He wasn’t very known yet in 1943. It’s because of Peggy’s encouragement and financial help that he became noticed. After the war, Peggy returned to Europe and lived in Venice until her death in 1979. Peggy’s collection is located in Venice and her uncle’s collection in New York. A lot of the art works are also spread around the world in different museums. And now also (temporarily) in Brussels!

My top 5

1) Adolph Gottlieb


‘Mist’ by Aldolph Gottlieb, 1961 © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

I first saw a work of Adolph Gottlieb, called Equinox, in Madrid last summer. It was really large and the color fields drew my attention. I felt like there was something behind it, like I was dragged into the painting into another universe. Ok, that may be a little bit exaggerated but there was something about this painting. When I read that he was a friend of Mark Rothko, I understood why I was so intrigued by it. Both of them are abstract artists who were looking for a more profound meaning in art. Gottlieb tried to capture the whole universe in his paintings (in his series ‘Burst’), while Rothko tried to make us look at his paintings as an overwhelming, almost religious experience. I think they were both trying to show us ‘the sublime’. I love it!

2) Hans Hofmann


‘The Gate’ by Hans Hofmann, 1959-1960 © 2016 Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust/Artist’s Rights Society (ARS), New York

This artist was completely new to me. I read that he created his own theory of ‘Push and Pull’. The colors in his art attract and push each other, so there is a tension and a balance at the same time.

3) Lucio Fontana


‘Spatial Concept’ by Lucio Fontana, 1957 © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

The only Fontana work I knew is from the series where he ripped the canvas open with a knife. In his paintings he is referring to another dimension, another reality that transcends the reality from the canvas.

4) Alberto Burri


‘Bianco B’ by AlbertoBurri, 1965 © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

This work is very different from the other paintings because of the use of burned materials. The artist was an Italian doctor during World War II. In Texas he found himself a prisoner of war. It’s only there that he started to paint on all kinds of material he could find. Later he started to burn his paintings to show the impermanence of the material.

5) Cy Twombly


‘Untitled’ by Cy Twombly, 1967 © Cy Twombly

You might be surprised that this work is in my Top 5. I still don’t fully understand what it’s about. In a way, it’s the same thing as the action paintings by Pollock. They are abstract, kind of wild ways of expressing yourself as an artist. But these lines on a chalkboard seem so simple. Anyway, I feel triggered to know more about it and for me that makes it a good art work. What do you think?

More info?

You can visit the exhibition until 12/02/2017 at the ING Art Center, Brussels.

ING Art Center website



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