The exhibition Stories of History compares and contrasts two important works from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection: “Nine Discourses on Commodus” (1963) by Cy Twombly and “Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale” (2008) by Georg Baselitz.
Both works portray personal narratives that revisit historical figures from two chronologically distant periods, using a gesturally charged language unrelated to traditional expressionisms. Twombly and Baselitz do not do “remakes” of historical events; instead, they present “stories” based on those facts, told from the artist’s point of view, in which their provocations are made within the artistic process rather than on the political stage. As José Luis Brea described it, “The world of the latest things, now become image.”
In “Nine Discourses on Commodus”, Cy Twombly turned to historical murders for inspiration, here based on the cruelty and madness of the Roman emperor Aurelius Commodus (161–192 AD) and his assassination. Conflict, opposition, and tension dominate the paintings’ composition, exemplifying an angst-ridden yet brilliant stage in Twombly’s career.
Produced by Georg Baselitz in 2008, “Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale” is a series of sixteen large-format canvases divided into two groups, tied together by the repetition of the same compositional structure on each canvas. Here Baselitz takes a precedent from art history (Otto Dix’s famous 1924 portrait The Artist’s Parents II) and reinterprets it as he sees fit—in this case by substituting the figures of two dictators, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, for those of the original composition.
Curated by Petra Joos