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ART EXHIBITION

Tyrants unite in Bilbao

Despotic works by Cy Twombly and Georg Baselitz face off at the Guggenheim Bilbao

Georg Baselitz in front of one of the paintings from his 'Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale' series.
Georg Baselitz in front of one of the paintings from his 'Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale' series.L. A. G.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is to pit two of the most important series in its collection against each other for a new joint exhibition starting next week. Historias de la Historia (Histories of history), curated by the museum's director of artistic activities, Petra Joos, features an artistic face-off between Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale (2008) by German painter Georg Baselitz and Discourses on Commodus (1963) by American artist Cy Twombly, two paintings featuring "personal narratives that revise historical figures from two separate periods in time, filled with body language."

The Baselitz work comprises 16 large-format paintings, divided into two groups of eight. The first features paintings in a range of grays on a black background, while the second are in color. Their departure point is an image of a fictitious encounter between Lenin and Stalin. The 16 works make reference to the 15 republics that made up the former Soviet Union plus the former East Germany, while the bird in the title alludes to a poem by German writer Johannes R. Becher in which Stalin is described as being like a nightingale.

A visitor contemplates part of the 'Discourses on Commodus' series on display in the Guggenheim Bilbao.
A visitor contemplates part of the 'Discourses on Commodus' series on display in the Guggenheim Bilbao.SANTOS CIRILO

Painted in Rome 50 years ago, Twombly's Discourses on Commodus comprises nine canvases that mix oils, pencil and wax crayons. The museum acquired the work in 2007 for 21 million euros, making it the most expensive piece in its collection. Until then it had been in the hands of a collector since its creation, and only ever shown in public once. Twombly was fascinated by ancient history and was inspired to create the work by the Roman Emperor Commodus, a tyrant who ended up assassinated.

The exhibition shows how the work of Twombly and Baselitz differs from that of so many other contemporary artists who appropriate history in order to refocus or reinterpret reality. Rather than revising historical events, the pair create stories based on historical facts and told from their own point of view. In this way, their provocations have a place within the artistic process and not on the political stage.

Historias de la Historia . January 22 to May 19 at Guggenheim Bilbao, Avenida Abandoibarra 2, Bilbao. www.guggenheim-bilbao.es

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