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Thinking of Baroque art, one calls to mind the excess of spendthrift kings, emotional paintings, and rich, ornamental style. These conventions are not for long, however—The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is seeking to alter the Baroque identity with its exhibit, “Riotous Baroque: From Cattelan to Zurbarán –Tributes to Precarious Vitality.” The show creates a space for dialogue between the 17th-century masters and contemporary artists. In one space, filled with over one hundred works, centuries collide as Giovanni Battista Langetti meets Tobias Madison and David Teniers the Younger meets Cindy Sherman.
The exhibition is arranged thematically, forming connections between seemingly different works. For instance, the first section of the exhibit is called, “The Bucolic and the Comical,” showcasing the state of carefree sin that bourgeois city merchants and aristocrats reveled in. Jan Steen’s Wedding Feast in a Farmer’s Tavern (1665) exemplifies the didactic Baroque painting, using everyday temptations to teach moral lessons.
Beside the 17th-century pieces are works of more modern realism. Boris Mikhailov presents a post-Soviet world in which capitalism and consumerism have taken a turn for the worse. Other themes include “Mythology and the Glorification of Manliness,” “The Burlesque and the Grotesque,” “Caravaggio and Darkness,” and “Vanitas, or the Manifestation of Excess.”
Each section juxtaposes artworks, inviting viewers to understand what “Baroque” means by placing it in a new context. In this way, the works interact and inform each other. Curator Bice Curiger comments, “In our age of massive revolutions in visual and communications media, revisiting an epoch that celebrated the visible and the sense of sight as a popular allegorical motif is both pleasurable and meaningful. The impulses of the present day will perhaps open up new ways for us to look at old art.”