The City Magazine Since 1975

Shock Value

Shock Value
November 2016
In 1936, modern masterpieces from the collection of Solomon and Irene Guggenheim debuted at the Gibbes

We often see things that are old turn new again. But last month, the rarer reverse became true at the Gibbes Museum of Art, when locals were given a chance to view what was new 80 years ago.

Back in March 1936, national attention was focused on Charleston as winter resident Solomon Guggenheim and his wife, Irene, lent a selection of their modern masterpieces—created by some of the giants of the 20th century—to the Gibbes. For the first time, many Lowcountry residents came face to face with the avant-garde works of artists such as Marc Chagall, Vasily Kandinsky, and Fernand Leger. The nonobjective canvases, representative of an art and point of view new to Charleston, sent shock waves through the art community and streets of  “America’s most historic city.”  “Pure radicalism,” said etcher Alfred Hutty. A journalist left the show, complaining the works gave him the creeps. Still, the Gibbes presented the collection once again in 1938.

This October 22, it returned to the institution for a third time in “Realm of the Spirit: Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection and the Gibbes Museum of Art,” a show that is displaying 35 pieces of objective and figurative art from the original exhibits, including works by Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, and Georges Seurat, through January 15.

So now the new will be déjà vu—as modern art comes marching home again, welcomed this time with open arms—and a little bit of nostalgia, too.