Image: The Line of Wit
Museum Exhibitions

The Line of Wit

11 June 2021—16 January 2022
Guggenheim Bilbao

The Line of Wit presents a focused selection of work characterized as humorous, clever, experimental, and inquisitive in nature. Ranging from the 1950s to the present, these works employ unusual materials and techniques, and playfully defy aesthetic conventions demonstrating ingenuity and wit. Bringing together artists of different generations working across a variety of media, the exhibition includes rarely seen treasures and beloved works from the Guggenheim Bilbao’s permanent collection alongside key long-term loans, some of which have never before been on view in the Museum. The mixing of high and low, ordinary and sublime, humor and earnestness can be traced throughout the exhibition challenging hierarchies that underpin the fine arts.

Organized thematically, the exhibition is structured in three distinct sections that embrace the experimental nature of artmaking through a cohesive selection of works by significant postwar and contemporary artists.

The Line of Wit presents a survey of works spanning various styles and movements centered on specific themes that explore ingenuity, experimentation, and distinctive artistic practices. Installed in dialogue with one another, these artworks offer the possibility to contemplate the critical choices artists make in selecting materials and techniques, thereby attesting to their artistic methodology and individual process.

Curator: Lekha Hileman Waitoller

Gallery 306

The representational or figurative works in this section exemplify the myriad ways in which artists explore the human form as subject. Portraiture, for these artists, invites opportunity for experimentation. Some of these works demonstrate an intuitive approach toward highly expressive pictures while others depict the subject more realistically. The installation considers ways in which figuration and abstraction have established a dialogue that at times collides in a single artist’s work. This can be seen in George Baselitz’s Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale (2008) and Henri Michaux’s Untitled (1981), for example, which achieve a level of abstraction while maintaining figuration.

Serial repetition across multiple canvases or within a single composition is a strategy used by several of these artists. A selection of Alex Katz’s Smiles (1993-94) demonstrates formal and conceptual experimentation through the motif of the figure which functions as a tool for artistic investigation into the traditional figure-ground relationship. Katz’s aim is not to represent the sitter’s personality, rather to present a more profound reflection on the nature of representation and the perception of images. By repeating the same framing device, figure-ground treatment, and the gesture of the smile, Katz beckons the viewer to focus on the pictorial experimentation across these varied depictions instead of the specific subject.


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