Your Concise New York Art Guide for December 2021


Cassie Packard, December 2021

When: through January 15
Where: Washburn Gallery (177 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan)

Alice Trumbull Mason, a painter, printmaker, and vocal proponent of non-objective art who cofounded the American Abstract Artists group in 1936, is among the figures who are getting their due with the reevaluation of the prevailing — typically white, male — narrative of American abstraction. Titled after a phrase from Will Heinrich’s contribution to a Mason monograph published last year, Shutter Paintings features 16 mature paintings made between 1960 and 1966 that are characterized by hard geometric ribbons of color running vertically, sometimes askant, down the canvas.

Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950


Nina Wolpow, November 2021

Under the voluminous skirts of the effusively praised Jasper Johns retrospective on the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, on the level usually reserved for educational programming, is a show of 30-or-so small works of art by women. Those represented, including better-known names like Lee Krasner and Louise Nevelson, belong to a generation of artists that broke with early-20th-century realist tendencies to engage in the kind of formal experimentation that laid the groundwork for the lions of abstract expressionism—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning—who in turn facilitated the enormous success, and thus, the enormous retrospective, of Johns. In regards to the schedule of the museum, the whole thing is almost too perfect: the potent but unremembered seed and the mighty oak it grew are simultaneously on display. 

Organized by Sarah Humphreville, Senior Curatorial Assistant, the title of the show borrows from the name of a print by the Connecticut-born artist Alice Trumbull Mason, who was a student of Arshile Gorky’s in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The full title of that work, which is included in the show, is Labyrinth of Closed Forms (1945). An intaglio print that is barely a foot across, the artwork is an archipelago of biomorphic—and some more geometric—shapes composed largely of negative space. Several of these contain their own kidney-like forms, one is punctured by a hole, a pair intersects each other, and still others are tinted by a lighter grey than that which makes up the print’s background. But all of these are, as the title ensures, closed, which is to say that they are circumscribed by ink. If Trumbull Mason’s labyrinth—it bears noting that this vaguely Cubist print arrived just a decade after Picasso, already renowned, began obsessing over depictions of the Minotaur—is entailed by this darkness, her forms’ negativity, their material emptiness, paradoxically imbues their wholeness. 

The full title of the Trumbull Mason work is important because the show in which it is included is not so labyrinthian as it is defined. The artists and artworks that make it up constitute not only a community—albeit one marked as much by divisions and disagreements as by consensus—but also an aesthetic and political enclave facilitated by a feminist willingness to embrace both figuration and abstraction during a time as defined by humanity by its appalling absence.

Such is emblematized by Untitled [Airplane Cockpit] (1949), a monotype by the Romanian-born artist Hedda Sterne. Here, Sterne—who had been in with the European surrealists, and followed her first husband to New York only after living through and escaping (Sterne was Jewish) the Bucharest pogrom—employs the messiness of the monotyping process, in which no etchings are made on the plate, to deliver a form that is at certain glimpses mechanical, and at others biological, like a skull. The medium is tasked with conveying the inseparability between human-driven technological advancement and the technological destruction of human life: neither the military vehicles of the Allies nor the gas chambers of the Nazis sprung to being on their own. The work’s rust-ish palette—indicative both of metal and blood—underscores this troubling and poignant connection. 

This is not to say that all of the works in the show are particularly concerned with the global horrors of the interwar, World War II, or immediate post-War periods. On the contrary, a 1950 screenprint by the Bay Area artist and world-traveler Dorr Bothwell—who exhibited under that forename as opposed to her given and decidedly feminine one, Doris—entitled Corsica, is cheery: an abstract rendering of that French island’s beguiling colors. And other earlier works, like a collection of lithographs by members of the New York-based organization the American Abstract Artists (AAA), including Ray Kaiser—who later married and seems to have been swallowed up by the furniture designer Charles Eames—and Rosalind Bengelsdorf Browne—who later married the painter Byron Browne—testify to the influence of the German painter and pedagogue Hans Hoffman, who experimented with a variety of avant garde styles, on the lives and careers of this group of women. Nevertheless, the exhibition tells the story of women artists triply daring for their time: first, for insisting on being artists at all, second, for interrogating realism without dismissing it completely, and third, for doing so in a time in which reality was nearly impossible to construe.

Many of these women artists have now disappeared from the story of modern art is the consequence both of sexism, and of the related capitalistic forces that created today’s art market, which is as responsible for entrenching artists like Johns as is his prodigious talent. The decision to resurrect the work of many of these women, and reinforce the art historical relevance of others in coincidence with a show as sprawlingly marketable and marketably sprawling as Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror strengthens that premise. I would not go and see one without the other. 

Female Abstract Artists Are Finally Getting Their Due

Widewalls Magazine

Balasz Takac, November 2021

Right after the Nazis took power in Germany, more and more European artists migrated to the US where they have continued disseminating modernism. Despite the dominance of figurative art, the new generations of artists many of them women, embraced abstraction. They have formed communities and organizations to support each other’s work, share ideas, and organize exhibitions.

Female abstract artists had a major role in these circles and often acted as leaders and organizers, wrote, lectured, and enhanced the methods of artmaking, especially in print media. However, except for a few such as Louise Nevelson and Lee Krasner, many of them remained underrecognized regardless of their efforts within this movement.

To tell the stories of all the relevant women active in the early stage of abstract art in America, and to indicate their rightful spot in art history, the Whitney Museum of American Art organized the exhibition Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950. The show brings together works mostly drawn from the Museum’s collection.

Titled Labyrinth of Forms after Alice Trumbull Mason’s work in the exhibition, this survey tends to underline the sense of discovery that informed these women to develop a striking visual language and propose innovative conceptual and technical solutions. It brings over thirty works by twenty-seven artists executed in a variety of media including drawings, woodcuts, sculptures, lithographs, intaglios, and collages. This survey is curated by Sarah Humphreville, Senior Curatorial, who said that “the Labyrinth of Forms is an exciting opportunity to reevaluate the history of abstraction in the United States”. She added:

The exhibition sheds light on the vital impact artists of the 1930s and 1940s had on the evolution and reception of abstract art in this country, the integral role of drawings and prints in its development, and, of course, the essential contributions that women made.

The exhibition Labyrinth of Forms will be on view in the Museum’s third-floor Susan and John Hess Family Gallery until March 2022. 

To bring you closer to the current show, we are spotlighting the practices of seven prolific female abstract expressionists featured.

. . .

Alice Trumbull Mason

Alice Trumbull Mason was an American abstract painter. She studied art in Rome, and the British Academy. After settling in New York in 1927, Mason became largely influenced by abstract painters such as Arshile Gorky. Later on, she also studied at the National Academy of Design and the Grand Central Art Galleries. Mason was affiliated with Gertrude Stein before resuming her painting in 1934 and had helped the founding of the American Abstract Artists in 1936. The artist has produced her last work in 1969 and died in New York City in 1971.

Goings on About Town: “Labyrinth of Forms”

The New Yorker

Johanna Fateman, November 2021

Borrowing its name from a 1945 aquatint etching by Alice Trumbull Mason, this exhibition at the Whitney features abstract works on paper from the museum’s collection, all made by women between 1930 and 1950. Few of these artists gained the attention they clearly deserved, despite working in a variety of established European modernist vernaculars. The biomorphic geometries in Trumbull Mason’s “Labyrinth of Closed Forms,” a striking grisaille composition, have affinities with the playful, floating shapes of Alexander Calder and Joan Miró; a lithograph by the mononymous Elise, “Untitled (Abstract, Ovoids and Lines),” from 1935, presents a Futurist fragment of mysterious origin, architectural or maybe mechanical. The great Lee Krasner’s colorful “Still Life,” from 1938—which, despite its name, looks purely abstract—is a breezy outlier, foreshadowing the all-over painting technique that would soon be favored by her fellow Abstract Expressionists. The modest size of the works on view lends them a collective air of distilled intensity, and the startling number of unfamiliar names adds an aura of melancholy.

‘Museums Overlooked These Artists’: Celebrating the Forgotten Women of Abstract Art


Julianne McShane, October 13, 2021

In a new exhibition, the female abstract artists between 1930 and 1950 whose work was sidelined at the time finally get their space in the spotlight.

In 1934, the abstract painter Alice Trumbull Mason wrote her sister, Margaret Jennings, a letter, noting that she was eager to resume painting, which she had temporarily stopped in order to raise her children.

“I am chafing to get back to painting and of course it’s at least a couple of years away,” Mason wrote. “The babies are adorable and terribly interesting. I’m not saying anything against them, but … I can’t be just absorbed in them.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that when Mason returned to painting a year after she wrote that letter – earlier than she had anticipated – she didn’t paint her kids or scenes from life at home; rather, she became a founding member of the New York-based American Abstract Artists, joining a group of artists experimenting with an art form more widespread in Europe but largely dismissed by critics and curators in the US at the time, who favored the realism of (male) painters including Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry.

Mason was one of many artists who also faced the additional barrier of being a woman in the male-dominated art world. But these artists also played important, yet historically overlooked, roles in driving the technical and conceptual developments of abstraction in the US, according to Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950, a new exhibition – named after one of Mason’s works featured in the exhibit – that opened this month at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. On view through March, the exhibit features more than 30 works – mostly smaller, and on paper – by 27 female artists who found creative, albeit subversive, freedom in experimenting beyond the bounds of the mainstream art establishment, according to curator Sarah Humphreville, senior curatorial assistant at the museum.

In taking up abstraction, the women rejected the realism that dominated the decade, which often reinforced “certain subject matters that people identified as being particularly feminine or as being appropriate for women to do”, such as paintings of mothers and children, Humphreville said.

“By working in abstraction, and therefore not having an overt subject matter in many cases, they really circumnavigated that whole predicament,” she added.

The artists worked with new forms of print-making and other mediums, relying on lines, shapes, and shading to arrange their compositions, often playing with perspective in the process to give the illusion of depth on paper. Under the guidance of painter and teacher Hans Hofmann, they also learned to make use of negative space and arrange overlapping and intersecting forms – ideas that, according to Humphreville, were “wild” in the US at the time.

The artists shared these ideas in small groups, where women often took on leadership roles, as Mason and other women featured in the exhibit did – including Rosalind Bengelsdorf and Gertrude Greene – by co-founding American Abstract Artists. “Within the group, women were treated as equals; they served as officers, participated on committees, wrote for publications, and organized programs,” Humphreville wrote of AAA in her essay accompanying the exhibition.

After the Whitney staged a 1935 exhibit on abstraction in the US that excluded younger artists, and the Museum of Modern Art staged an exhibition the following year on cubist and abstract art featuring only European artists, the AAA – which was also composed of many men – organized an exhibition of American abstract artists, at the Squibb Galleries in midtown Manhattan in April 1937. It drew more than 1,500 people during its two week run.

While the reviews were largely negative – “reviewers charged the artists with being boring, decorative, derivative, and disconnected from reality”, Humphreville wrote – the exhibiting artists got a rare positive review from Charmion von Wiegand, a critic and abstract artist herself (who also has a drawing on view in the Whitney exhibit).

Occupying those dual roles of both artist and critic meant von Wiegand was “one of the people in the US who probably kind of understood modern art firsthand really well from an early moment”, Humphreville said. In her review of the 1937 show, von Wiegand “was really making an argument for abstraction and saying it’s not unpolitical for someone to be making work and expressing themselves in this way”, Humphreville added.

The AAA continued staging exhibitions throughout the 30s, helping to cultivate greater acceptance of American abstraction among critics by the early 1940s.

Around that time, another avant-garde group formed in New York: Atelier 17, where 40% of members were women, including members of the AAA. The workshop “encouraged technical and formal invention,” according to Humphreville, and artists specialized in and pioneered new printmaking processes. Norma Morgan, whose work is also featured in Labyrinth of Forms, was one of the two Black female artists who were part of the group (the other was Evangeline St Claire).

Despite the creative freedom the artists found working together and with new forms, abandoning the artistic status quo – particularly as women – came with a price: “They have this double layer of marginalization – they are making art that is not necessarily the most popular within the US … and then if you’re a woman on top of that, that’s this [additional] layer,” Humphreville said.

Being a female artist became an even more acute burden with the dawn of abstract expressionism, which by 1950 became a “highly masculine” movement, according to Humphreville.

In attempts to circumvent the gender-based barriers they faced, some of the women featured in the Whitney exhibit – including Dorr Bothwell and Irene Rice Pereira, who became one of the first two women to have a retrospective at the Whitney, in 1953 – presented their works with altered, less obviously feminine versions of their legal names in order to have a better chance at being exhibited: Bothwell legally changed her first name from Doris, and Pereira signed her works as “I Rice Pereira”.

Critics also regularly expressed surprised when they learned the true identities of women artists – as did Hans Hofmann, the artist and teacher who taught many of the artists featured in the Whitney exhibit: in an incident recounted many times by the abstract expressionist painter Lee Krasner, Hofmann once allegedly remarked that a drawing she made was “so good that you would not know it was done by a woman”. (Fellow abstract expressionist Elaine de Kooning shared a similar memory of Hofmann’s assessment of her own work.) That “drove [Krasner] crazy”, Humphreville said.

Following the work of feminist art historians dating back to the 1970s, museums and scholars have more recently begun to critically reexamine art historical accounts of the development of American abstraction that exclude the contributions of women and people of color, Humphreville added, pointing to the Denver Art Museum’s 2016 Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibit and the Whitney’s own Agnes Pelton retrospective last year.

But Labyrinth of Forms is also significant for its home, given that “the Whitney didn’t really collect most of this material as it was being made”, Humphreville said, adding that many of the works weren’t added to the museum’s collection until after the late 1970s.

The exhibit, she added, comes as a long overdue correction – for both American art history and the Whitney itself: “A lot of museums also overlooked these artists at the time … you kind of already start having that marginalization happen during their lifetimes, which makes it so that when they do get written into the history, it necessarily has to be a little bit revisionist.”

‘Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950’ Debuts at The Whitney on October 9


October 04, 2021

The Whitney Museum of American Art presents Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950, an exhibition of works drawn primarily from the Museum’s collection that celebrates the innovative abstract art made by women in the first half of the twentieth century. The exhibition features over thirty works by twenty-seven artists. Labyrinth of Forms seeks to highlight the achievements of these groundbreaking artists and explores how works on paper, in particular, were important sites for experimentation and innovation. The exhibition is curated by Sarah Humphreville, Senior Curatorial Assistant, and is on view in the Museum’s third-floor Susan and John Hess Family Gallery from October 9, 2021 to March 2022.

Labyrinth of Forms, a title drawn from an Alice Trumbull Mason work in the exhibition, alludes to the sense of discovery that drove these artists to establish a visual language reflecting the advances of the twentieth century. Women played important roles in propelling the formal, technical, and conceptual evolution of abstract art in the United States. While a few of these artists, including Lee Krasner and Louise Nevelson, have been duly recognized, most remain overlooked despite their prominence within this burgeoning movement.

Labyrinth of Forms is an exciting opportunity to reevaluate the history of abstraction in the United States. The exhibition sheds light on the vital impact artists of the 1930s and 1940s had on the evolution and reception of abstract art in this country, the integral role of drawings and prints in its development, and, of course, the essential contributions that women made. It also gives the Whitney’s audiences the chance to see works from the collection that have rarely, if ever, been exhibited before,” said Humphreville.

Abstraction flourished in the U.S. during this period in part because of increased exposure to European avant-garde art through modern art courses and new exhibition venues. Nevertheless, abstract artists were vastly outnumbered by realist practitioners, maligned by critics, and largely ignored by museums and galleries. In the face of these obstacles, American abstractionists forged a network of overlapping communities, organizations, and creative spaces, which allowed them to support one another, exchange ideas, and exhibit their work. Women were key figures in these groups and often took on leadership and organizational roles, wrote and gave lectures, and advanced methods of making, particularly in print media.

Labyrinth of Forms reveals the striking variety of interests, styles, and media that these artists embraced. The exhibition includes drawings, woodcuts, intaglios, lithographs, and collages. In a number of cases, artists combined approaches, as Katherine Dreier did in her Variation #4, from 40 Variations (1934). In this joyful, geometric work inspired by sailing and Beethoven’s music, Dreier applied bright watercolor hues over a lithograph base. Charmion von Wiegand similarly applied brilliant tones and collaged passages to her drawing Untitled (1942). The work originated as an automatic drawing, a technique introduced by the European Surrealists. Lee Krasner is represented in Labyrinth of Forms with Still Life (1938), an oil-on-paper drawing that uses ordinary, real-world objects as a springboard for an abstract composition. Krasner studied with Hans Hofmann from 1937-38; this drawing is informed by his lessons on the importance of negative space but is decidedly more radically abstract than the work her teacher created at the time. Like Krasner, the other women in this exhibition were innovators. In showcasing their works and reinvigorating their histories, Labyrinth of Forms challenges the dominant narrative of abstraction and brings to light the contributions of these previously excluded voices.

These Are the Art Shows and Events to See This Season: ‘Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950’


Will Heinrich, September 17, 2021

After the pandemic brought museum and gallery shows to a dead stop, last year’s racial justice protests lent new urgency to demands that institutions become more transparent, more representative and more diverse. While there’s certainly an uptick of shows featuring women and artists of color in this fall preview, there are also many, delayed by Covid-19, that were planned several years ago. For the moment, at least, it feels as if we are picking up just where we left off — with solo blockbusters (like Jasper Johns’s, stretching over two cities), art fairs (nearly all in person, again) and ancient treasures (rare ceramics, from Thailand to Mesopotamia). Check museums and fairs for health-related updates: Museums may require proof of vaccination, and fairs may yet migrate back online.

The latest welcome challenge to the old heroic-male-painter story of abstraction comes largely from the Whitney’s permanent collection, with works by 26 artists, including the titanic Alice Trumbull Mason, one of whose paintings provides the show’s title. (Oct. 9-March 2022; Whitney Museum of American Art,

10 Best New Art Shows to See in NYC in Fall 2021: ‘Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950’


Jerry Saltz, 1 September, 2021

Whitney Museum of American Art, opens October 9
In the early part of the 20th century, as European artists belched out manifestos calling for the end of painting and museums, white America was just starting to feel great about itself. It looked around and saw skyscrapers, flappers, jazz bands, Hollywood — everything except, of course, its racism. That’s when Europe began to self-immolate and abstract artists such as Piet Mondrian, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp, Max Beckmann, and waves more immigrated to our shores. They triggered a chain reaction; an American art world came into being, a sort of international American Baroque and Classicism. Art history was rewritten. Imperfectly.

The modest show “Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction” is a much-needed step toward setting the record straight. Here is an exhibition of mostly smaller works on paper made in America by women. We all know the figurative painting and social realisms of male painters like Edward Hopper, but abstraction was much slower to take root in this country. Women artists everywhere must have sensed that the doors of other American genres were already closed to them and so moved into the vacuum.

You will recognize some of the names: Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Hedda Sterne (the only woman pictured in the famous photograph published in Time of the otherwise all-male Abstract Expressionists). Other names may be new to you: Blanche Lazzell, Alice Trumbull Mason, Charmion von Wiegand. These artists seeded the pluralism that began in the 1970s and that has never stopped adding to art’s multiplicity. They weren’t hampered by the dictatorial, mostly male proclamations calling for unwavering aesthetic fealty to one cockamamie thing or another. Even as they were passed over for gallery and institutional support in favor of the Rothkos and Pollocks, these women explored the untended shores of biomorphic, geometric, hard-edged, and allover abstraction — mapping new territories, forming a nutrient-rich tidal pool of artistic life.

Women Win at the Art Show


Will Heinrich, February 2019

The best thing about the Art Show, the annual fair sponsored by the Art Dealers Association of America in the Park Avenue Armory, is that ticket sales benefit the Henry Street Settlement, which has been bringing art and culture to the Lower East Side since 1893. The second best thing is that all 72 exhibitors are in a single room, albeit a large and drafty one: You can take it all in with a leisurely stroll.

What you’ll find this year is a program dominated by uncompromising female artists. The very best of them are two joint presentations: the painter Judith Linhares with the sculptor Annabeth Rosen at P.P.O.W. and Anglim Gilbert, and Alice Neel’s paintings with photographs by Diane Arbus, brought together by David Zwirner and Fraenkel Gallery.


Here are some especially notable booths.

A full booth at the Washburn Gallery is dedicated to the painter Alice Trumbull Mason (1904-1971), with a focus on drawings and paintings from the 1940s, whose surfaces are broken into rhythmic showers of narrow shapes. In “Bearings Charted With Yellow,”from 1946, the overlapping rhombuses have a dizzying effect, suggesting a teasing motion that doesn’t actually get anywhere, while “Bearings in Transition,” beside it, is as still as the grave.

The Guggenheim’s Greatest Hits Come Roaring Back


Holland Cotter, 17 March 2017

Of New York City’s major museum collections, the Guggenheim’s is the hardest to see, because so little of it is usually on view. Blame Frank Lloyd Wright’s design, that big empty well of light and air with a little art up the sides. Not that I object to the building. I’ve adored it since my first visit as an out-of-town kid in 1960, the year after it opened. There was art on the ramps then, but all I remember is thinking: spaceship. Still do.

But now, as if answering a hunger — maybe its own — to see what that spaceship originally held, the museum brings us “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim,” a permanent collection show that fills the rotunda. The 170 works — mostly paintings, with a few sculptures, including a lobster-red Calder mobile dropped from on high — add up to a classic greatest-hits display, which could be a snooze, but in this case isn’t because a lot of these greatest hits really are great, and some of the less familiar stuff is too.

The installation is a pleasure: neat, clean, linear, up the ramp, with an optional detour into the Thannhauser wing (always permanent holdings turf). No need to consult floor plans. No wandering off course. If your visiting time is short, shift into four-wheel drive, head straight uphill and you’ll be done in under an hour.

The main route, which starts on Ramp 2, is broadly chronological. It begins with a picture-window landscape by Camille Pissarro, “The Hermitage at Pontoise,” from around 1867, the collection’s earliest work. It ends several ramps later, under the skylight, with Jackson Pollock’s big, tarry 1947 “Alchemy,” an archaeological dig of a picture, on view in New York for the first time in 50 years (after a painstaking restoration that removed decades of grime).

But right off the rotunda floor, before you begin your climb, you undergo a kind of modernist baptism by fire: an eruption of color, line and utopian emotion generated by 10 Vasily Kandinsky paintings. Kandinsky is the Guggenheim’s house artist, the one whose work it owns in the greatest depth, and whose spiritualizing sensibility most closely reflects the institution’s founding aspirations.

Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949), a New York industrialist and seasoned collector of old masters, probably never heard of Kandinsky until around 1927, when, at his wife’s insistence, he had his portrait done. The painter she hired was a German artist named Hilla Rebay — born Baroness Hildegard Anna Augusta Elisabeth Rebay von Ehrenwiesen — who had recently arrived in New York. Rebay had strange, figureless paintings and collages, some of which she’d made, on her studio walls. And she began telling her sitter about wonderful kinds of new art coming out of Europe: abstract art — she called it nonobjective — that reached for the spiritual realm.

Guggenheim liked what he heard, and he liked a gamble, and, at age 68, decided to go with this one. The conversion was quick. Out went the old masters; and, under Rebay’s guidance, in came some zany new ones, Kandinsky among them. By 1930, Guggenheim, guided by Rebay, had bought hundreds of pictures and was inviting people to his apartment in the Plaza Hotel to see them.

In 1937, 80 years ago, he gave his collection institutional heft by setting up the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. A publicly accessible home for the work — the Museum of Non-Objective Painting — followed in 1939, with Rebay as director. And 20 years later came the Guggenheim Museum we have today.

From an early point, its modernist collection represented the contributions, through sale, purchase or gifts, of several people. Look at the labels for the 10 introductory Kandinskys. The names of some of the original owners are noted. They, along with Guggenheim and Rebay, are the “visionaries” of the show’s title.

Two of them, Karl Nierendorf and Justin K. Thannhauser, were German art dealers who moved to New York before, or during, World War II. Another figure, Katherine S. Dreier, was an artist and a private collector with progressive tastes. And a vital contributor was family: Peggy Guggenheim, Solomon’s self-described “art addict” niece.

It is around these figures, and their art, that the exhibition, organized by the Guggenheim curator Megan Fontanella, with Ylinka Barotto, a curatorial assistant, is loosely built. Thannhauser, an important second-generation European dealer in early modern French painting, was the original owner of the Pissarro landscape. He was pushed by war from Berlin to Paris and finally to New York in 1941. With no children to carry on his business, he consigned much of his art to the Guggenheim Foundation, including resplendent Gauguin landscapes, Seurat pastorals, a cache of van Gogh letters and a group of unusually interesting — because unusual — Picassos.

His compatriot, Nierendorf, came to New York on a holiday jaunt in the late 1930s and stayed. He was a crucial figure in the developing museum: He represented Kandinsky in America, and had close ties to Paul Klee. When Nierendorf died suddenly in 1947, the Guggenheim Foundation bought his estate. Dozens of works by Klee came with it, and seven of them are part of what amounts to a Klee mini-retrospective that is one of the true park-the-car highlights of the show.

Rebay loved Klee, and bought a gorgeous little wine-red abstract grid painting — it looks like a dollhouse version of an Ardabil carpet — for herself. Like much of the rest of her personal collection, it eventually went to the museum, though her contribution to the institution was already incalculably huge. Basically, she created it in its early stages. And, with her theosophical interests and radical eye, she shaped it in ways that Guggenheim on his own might not have. (But even she couldn’t sell him on Mondrian.) Rightfully, many of her own works entered the holdings, and two of her abstract collages are on view: vivacious, disciplined, beautiful.

Dreier, an American of German descent, was an artist too. She participated in the 1913 Armory show, where she met Marcel Duchamp. In 1920, joined by Man Ray, they founded the Société Anonyme to buy and exhibit new and difficult art. Independently wealthy, Dreier took collecting as seriously as most people do a profession. She made it her career and amassed astonishing holdings. The bulk of Société Anonyme material is at Yale, but the Guggenheim got some treasures: a zesty Schwitters collage, a Mondrian, and a madly complex Duchamp ink study of a chess match drawn on what looks like a cocktail napkin.

The show ends with objects from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. The daughter of Solomon’s brother Benjamin, who died on the Titanic, Peggy combined the work of several visionaries in one, as an art dealer, a museum builder and a lavish shopper — her stated intention was to “buy a picture a day” — with extremely eclectic tastes.

Paintings in the show that belonged to her range from a rigorous geometric abstraction by Kazimir Malevich to a diseased-looking Surrealist tableau by Max Ernst (her second husband). The dominant energy comes from Pollock, who was working as a maintenance man at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting when Peggy Guggenheim, in a dealer phase, offered to pay him to make paintings full time. He did, and she got a lot of them. The three at the very top of the ramp are explosive the way the Kandinskys are below.

She claimed Pollock as her great discovery, which he was, and still is, though the show yields plenty of other discoveries: Joseph Cornell assemblages, Franz Marc horses and cows, and splendid things by artists — Claire Falkenstein, Perle Fine, Alice Trumbull Mason, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva — you rarely see. You may miss them on a quick visit. But there’s plenty of time to return. “Visionaries” will be in place for nearly six months, until September, and even for a collection show, that doesn’t sound too long.

Of the 170 pieces in the Guggenheim’s permanent collection survey, a few stand out:

PAUL KLEE “Horizon, Zenith and Atmosphere,” 1925. Klee and Vasily Kandinsky both worked at the Bauhaus. Both had mystical temperaments. Both were artists collected by all the early Guggenheim “visionaries.” Yet their work was very different, in scale and tone. This little Klee piece, with its radiant graphic lines and color sprayed from an atomizer, is in an aesthetic and spiritual world entirely its own.

VAN GOGH “Landscape With Snow,” 1888. Feeling harassed and jostled by life in Paris, in the winter of 1888 van Gogh headed south for Arles, hoping to find balmy weather and congenial artist friends. He found neither. Arles had been hit by freak snowstorms. Standoffish locals were the only people around. Van Gogh went to work, and painted a bleak frosted field as oceanic garden.

FRANZ MARC “Stables,” 1913. Marc painted some of the most empathetic depictions of animals since Dürer’s. As time went on, his view of the world grew more encompassing and cohesive. In “Stables,” his final picture of horses, nature and architecture harmoniously interlock. In 1916, at 36, he was killed in action during World War I.

BRANCUSI “Little French Girl,” circa 1914-18. For Hilla Rebay, sculpture, as a medium, wasn’t spiritual enough, and this delightfully kooky early Brancusi is one of the few sculptures in the Guggenheim show. Influenced by African art that Brancusi had studied in Paris museums, it ended up in the Connecticut living room of Katherine S. Dreier.

ALICE TRUMBULL MASON “Emergent Form,” 1945. An American painter and printmaker, Mason (1904-1971) studied in New York with Arshile Gorky and went through geometric, then biomorphic phases, which she combines in this insouciant piece. An ardent nonobjectivist, she signed this painting twice, in different places, to indicate it had no fixed orientation.

JACKSON POLLOCK “Alchemy,” 1947. Pollock’s great painting is a fitting punctuation to the show. Historically, it feels like both the beginning and the end of something big. It’s being seen here for the first time in years in more ways than one. To get a sense of the extensive conservation work done on it, check out “Jackson Pollock: Exploring ‘Alchemy’” in the Guggenheim’s Sackler Center for Arts Education.