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Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum
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Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum

Picture of Akshay Jain
Updated: 12 December 2015
Art is subjective, and New York‘s Guggenheim Museum will be the first to admit this. Yet while perception seems to depend on a myriad of cultural circumstances, storytelling itself is global and timeless. Whether fantasy tales or politically fueled recounts of history, stories are a universal means of conveying human subjectivity. In the Guggenheim’s exhibition Storylines, this subjectivity is explored through the lens of contemporary, figurative art to reveal the many ideas behind the modern works.
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © David Heald
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © David Heald

Many seem to dismiss contemporary art as either being too direct or, at the other extreme, too enigmatic. Storylines seems to avoid such generalizations by selecting niche pieces from their massive collection. With ideas of sexuality, gender, political dissent, and race as their major focus, the exhibition succeeds in having both an air of consolidation and individuality. No piece is the same as the next, but their relation is undeniable.

Some pieces, such as Catherine Opie’s 1993 work Dyke, are quite blatant with their political message. Other works, such as Katie Paterson’s 2008 piece Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight are not so clear. Regardless, the theme of storytelling pervades through each work in the exhibition. Each work explores a form of narrative in some way, showing a unique characteristic that is seemingly intrinsic to each work.

Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © David Heald
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © David Heald

Curated by a museum renowned for its collection of abstract works, this exhibition was especially fascinating. There is no famous crutch to support this exhibition. While obviously many of the artists are world renowned, ordinary visitors will not step into Storylines and recognize the Carol Bove work hanging on the wall. However, it seems this was a calculated move by the Guggenheim curatorial staff, and one that should be well appreciated by any art advocate.

Every work of art tells a story, regardless of the artist’s intent. While many museums consider contemporary art to be anything after pop art, the Guggenheim takes a refreshing look at works that seem to rarely garner the viewership they deserve. Under the common umbrella of narrative, the exhibition reminds us that contemporary work tackles issues that are relevant to everyone and deserve proper recognition.

Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © David Heald
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © David Heald

The importance of the exhibition goes far beyond connecting the works by their common thread of storytelling. It reminds us that art, in any medium, has the ability to inform. Going beyond the beauty of its extensive collection of old master works, the Guggenheim reminds us that stories are not always easy to look at. Storylines gives a direct look into the subjectivity any piece of art carries, and is an impressive piece-by-piece experience. The exhibition will be at the Guggenheim until September 9th, and it is not one to be missed.

Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © Kristopher McKay
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim | © Kristopher McKay

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY, USA, +1 212-423-3500