“Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters” at the High Museum of Art brings together more than 100 works by 14 influential 20th-century artists pulled from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and shown together for the first time in the Southeast.
“We wanted to create 14 intimate, immersive situations for people so they could feel like they had both met these artists and walked through the history of modern art,” said High director Michael Shapiro.
On display are examples of artists using traditional subjects — portraits, landscapes, still lifes — in ways that were new, innovative, and sometimes shocking, at the time. They used new styles, like Cubism, and experimented with a variety of media, including mobiles, collage, film and silkscreen.
True to its title, the exhibition opens with paintings and etchings by Pablo Picasso and finishes with pop art pieces and a film by Andy Warhol. Works are clustered by artist, giving visitors a chance to see multiple works by a single artist together to get a more complete look at each artist’s career, said MoMA’s Jodi Hauptman, lead curator of the exhibition.
“The biggest revelation is the relationships between these works that you can’t see in our galleries” because the works aren’t displayed together at MoMA, Hauptman said. “Instead of being told about these connections, you actually see them.”
Arranged in long, open vistas, the exhibition allows visitors to focus on a single artist but also to get a glimpse of what’s to come and to consider the dialogue between the works, Hauptman said.
Standing in front of the opening piece — Picasso’s brightly colored, large-format 1932 painting Girl Before a Mirror — the visitor can look to the left and see Two Acrobats with a Dog from 1905, during Picasso’s Rose Period, and then turn to the right to see Henri Matisse’s Dance (I) in the next part of the gallery.
After considering familiar artists like Picasso and Matisse in the first two galleries, visitors move on to lesser-known but still important artists. Sculptures by Constantin Brancusi and paintings and drawings by Piet Mondrian offer objects or settings stripped down to their bare essence — with Brancusi’s streamlined bronze sculpture evoking a bird and Mondrian using grids of horizontal and vertical lines to represent a seascape, a church or a busy city square.
In a side gallery are works by Marcel Duchamp, whom Shapiro describes as probably the most radical artist in the exhibition. Most striking, perhaps is a wood and galvanized iron snow shovel hanging from the ceiling that the artist bought in a hardware store in 1915, then signed, dated and titled it In Advance of the Broken Arm.
In Dutch Interior (I), painted in 1928, Joan Miro uses a Baroque painting of the same name as a model but recreates it as an abstract work. Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1A” showcases the artist’s well-known drip painting technique, his personal involvement with the painting stamped onto one edge in the form of handprints in paint. Mobiles by Alexander Calder in a side gallery “defy one of the basic rules of sculpture, which is that gravity is in charge,” Shapiro said.
In Map from 1961, Jasper Johns, the only living artist in the exhibition, blurs the borders of the states in a giant, colorful map of the United States, using brushwork but also clearly identiying each one by name in bold, stenciled letters. Also by Johns are several works featuring numbers, which further illustrates his desire to present traditional, familiar subjects in a new way.
Across one wall of the final gallery are Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, painted canvases that correspond to the varieties of soup sold by the company in 1962. In the center of the room are more works inspired by commercial products, including Heinz Tomato Ketchup Box (1963-64), Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box (1964) and Brillo Box (Soap Pads) (1964).
Also included in the exhibition are works by Fernand Leger, Giorgio Chirico, Louise Bourgeois and Romare Bearden.
A free iPhone and Android application allows visitors to interact with the exhibition using their smart phones. By using one of those phones to take a picture of a piece, visitors can pull up more information, chat electronically with other visitors or pose questions in real time to museum staff.