Ten must-see works at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Good for: Contemporary-art lovers

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  • Photograph: ANZAï

    Lee Ufan, Relatum (formerly Language), 1971

  • Photograph: Courtesy Guggenheim

    Paul Gauguin, In the Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse, 1891

  • Photograph: Courtesy Guggenheim

    Georges Seurat, Farm Women at Work, 1882–83

  • Lee Ufan, Dialogue—space, 2011 (detail).

Photograph: ANZAï

Lee Ufan, Relatum (formerly Language), 1971


Lee Ufan, Relatum (formerly language)
This sculptural installation, part of the Korean-born artist-philosopher's first North American retrospective, represents Lee's Mono-ha period, a Japanese art movement that explores the relationship between natural and synthetic materials and their correlation to space. One gallery houses seven large, actual boulders, each seated on a cushion. "Lee is very interested in bringing objects from raw nature into the language of the museum, and juxtaposing them with materials from our industrial, urban society," says exhibition curator Alexandra Munroe. "It's combining the modern with the timeless."
Where to find it:
"Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity," annex level four, through Sept 28.

Paul Gauguin, In the Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse
In 1891, Gauguin left France to immerse himself in nature in the French colony of Tahiti (he laterreturned to France and then escaped again, to French Polynesia, where he died). "There was some kind of wish to reject Western culture and go back to some kind of primitivism, which was of course a very romantic desire," says Vail. The result was several paintings like this one—depicting a muscular man leading his horse into the Tahitian woods—which combined elements of Greek architecture with the breathtaking beauty of the island's landscape.
Where to find it:
Thannhauser Gallery, level two

Georges Seurat, Farm Women at Work
As the inventor of Pointillism—a series of short brushstrokes that combine to create pixelated images much like an old dot-matrix printer—Seurat spent his short life studying the science behind color, line, optics and how light plays out on a canvas—"unlike the Impressionists, who were more spontaneous," says Vail. Seurat often worked outdoors to explore the effect of light on his subjects, as he did in this depiction of agrarian life.
Where to find it: Thannhauser Gallery, level two

Vasily Kandinsky, Several Circles
Kandinsky is the backbone of the Guggenheim, which has an entire gallery devoted to rotating works by the Russian artist. And this piece is one of his most famous: The colorful, overlapping circles on a black background, like a solar system made of candy, is a highlight of Kandinksy's Bauhaus years. "It speaks of a harmonious cosmic order," says Vail, "and for Kandinsky, there was some kind of inner force about the circle that endlessly inspired him."
Where to find it:
Thannhauser Gallery, level three

Lee Ufan. Dialogue—space
For this site-specific installation, Lee has painted three large gray-blue brush marks directly onto three walls of an empty room. "As you enter this emptiness, the three brush marks begin to almost vibrate," says Munroe. "Lee's [notations] in this empty field are marking infinity, thereby activating a larger continuum of space and time. It's like the piano notes in a Chopin piece that are [broken] by the silence between the notes."
Where to find it:
"Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity," annex level seven, through Sept 28.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave at 89th St (212-423-3500, guggenheim.org). Mon--Wed, Fri, Sun 10am--5:45pm; Sat 10am--7:45pm. $18, seniors and students with ID $15, children under 12 accompanied by an adult free. Sat 5:45--7:45pm pay what you wish.

While you're there...

Head for the gift shop, which is stocked with items like a Frank Lloyd Wright pop-up book ($24.95) and a 1,000-piece puzzle zoomed in on Chuck Close's face ($17.95).

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