Guggenheim Collection: The American Avant-Garde 1945–1980 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni - Closing soon!

Richard Estes: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Summer 1979
After visitors at this season's blockbuster show at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni have been taken on a whistle-stop tour of all the major developments in American art in the years immediately following the Second World War, by way of sixty iconic works from the permanent collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, as well as pieces from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in the final room they are greeted with a surprisingly lovely architectural portrait of the New York museum, painted in the summer of 1979 by photorealist artist Richard Estes.

Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 
Whilst the previous exhibition rooms chart the Guggenheim Collection's history from its beginnings as a small window on European abstract painting in New York, to becoming world famous through its championing of primarily American movements - Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Conceptualism, and finally Photorealism - Estes' painting of Frank Lloyd Wright's cylindrical building is pure 17th century Vermeer, a gentle reminder of the European roots of the modern art movements of the last century. Indeed, the opening rooms focus on the early works of European émigrés to New York and the rise of Abstract Expressionism through the works of Dutch American Willem de Kooning, Russian-American Mark Rothko, and German-born American Hans Hoffman, which are shown alongside US-born contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock, Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Motherwell.

Frank Stella: Harran II
Agnes Martin: White Flower
The high ceilings and the cathedral-like floor plan of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni with its seven chapel-like galleries set around a central rotunda, afford long views to the end walls of each gallery across the entire length of the building, and is the perfect setting for these works. Agnes Martin's exquisite, almost monochrome, minimalist White Flower painting from 1960, for example, faces Frank Stella's fluorescent Harran II (1967) on the far wall of the opposite side of the building. Robert Motherwell's starkly imposing Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 (1971) is also, thankfully, given end-of-gallery pride of place (hung behind highly reflective glass it is difficult to view comfortably as one gets nearer to it).

Andy Warhol: Orange Disaster #5
Poster-boy for the exhibition Jackson Pollock, whose 1950 painting Number 18 is being used to advertise the show all over town, is represented on the other hand by unexpectedly small works – don't expect to see any huge drip paintings at this show – although the aforementioned Number 18 and Untitled (Green Silver) from 1949 are both dazzling.

It isn't easy to chose favourite works in such a hugely enjoyable show, but certainly Andy Warhol's chilling Orange Disaster #5 (1963), with its electric chair repeated 15 times, Roy Lichtenstein's humorous Pop Art growling dog Grrrrrrrrrrr!! (1965), and Kenneth Noland's gorgeous 1969 colour field painting April Tune, stick in my mind.

Roy Lichtenstein: Grrrrrrrrrrr!!
The show closes very soon – well worth a visit!

Guggenheim Collection: The American Avant-Garde 1945–1980 is curated by Lauren Hinkson and continues at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni until 6 may 2012.

Copyright on paintings © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (web-resolution, fair use rationale).