Monday, November 15, 2010

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

The Acrobat, 1930 Courtesy Musee National de Picasso, Paris
Finally, I have some time to post a comment on this extraordinary exhibition of Picasso's art work  "Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris, October 8, 2010 - January 17, 2011 at the Seattle Art Museum.

For all of us in the United States who have seen the same works from the Museum of Modern Art over and over, everywhere, this exhibition is delightful. Although some of the works are definately benchmarks, like La Celestina and the Death of Casagemas, others are completely unknown, like the self portrait with pentimenti for Les Demoiselles D'Avignon and the chunky wooden sculpture from the same time frame.

In fact Picasso's sculpture is way underemphasized in most discussions. It is consistently original and intriguing. In this show among works in recycled metal, wood, bronze, and paper is the original Bulls Head made from Picasso's bicycle seat and handlebars. You can look at the leather bicycle seat and think about Picasso sitting on it. In this exhibition there is also the Man with Sheep, 1943 and the Nanny Goat 1950.

So why am I so excited about the exhibition, I, the post colonial, feminist, political activist, art critic? Because it is intimate. We can feel Picasso thinking as we look at these works, the sketches for Guernica, the photographs of Guernica in progress by Dora Maar, the photographs from early years in Paris or during the war, murky, shadowy black and white.

But it is also dramatic : the juxtaposition of the wonderful bronze sculptures inspired by Marie Therese in the late 1920s and the paintings of that same period, one of my favorite eras of Picasso's work, installed beautifully in the gallery by Anne Baldessari, curator of the Musee Picasso in Paris

I have chosen only the image of the acrobat from 1930 for this posting, as it is such a brilliant drawing/painting. I see Picasso chasing Matisse in this outline, but never can he accede to the pursuit of the idea of an art work as a  "comfortable armchair" that Matisse worked so hard to achieve. Picasso always struggled, resisted, absorbed, and reworked. The impossibly contorted acrobat is, as in all of Picasso's work, Picasso himself, of course, and the contortions of his art. It is in the room that introduces his pass through Surrealism.

John Berger's Success and Failure of Picasso (1965) is still worth re- reading after all these years.
He suggests that Picasso ultimately sought the primitive instead of the civilized.
He also suggests the biggest failure was Picasso's last works, when he did over elaborate re workings of old master paintings like Velazquez, over elaborate but empty.
Picasso, according to Berger, had a "failure of revolutionary nerve . . . To sustain such nerve one must be convinced that there will be another kind of success: a success which will operate in a field connecting for the first time ever, the most complex imaginative constructions of the human mind and the liberation of all those peoples of the world who until now have been forced to be simple, and of whom Picasso has always wished to be the representative." ( 206)
On the subject of "How Political was Picasso?" John Richardson has an excellent article in the New York Review of Books last week. Richardson knew Picasso over many years, and he watched all the acrobatics from both near and far.

All aspects of Picasso are represented here. We can all decide for ourselves what we think. And of course, all the women who inspired him are prominently included : Fernande,  Eva, Olga, Marie Therese, Dora Maar, Francois Gilot, Jacqueline, and other women who are less famous.
Make up your own mind, but see this show. It is travelling to Virginia and San Francisco from Seattle, and then off to Asia. For an excellent more detailed discussion of the exhibition see Art Dish

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