8 January 2016

Three Paris Exhibitions: (1) Picasso

Shows seen last month in a city subdued and uncrowded after les évènements of 13 December

While in Paris, I came across an article by Robin Pogrebin in the International New York Times about developments at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Back in 2010, a NYT art critic had described MoMA’s conventional wisdom as “a reluctance to question the linear unspooling of art history according to designated styles that remains the Modern’s core value and its Achilles’ heel”. Now, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture was being quoted as saying that the museum was “reflecting a more widespread shift from thinking in categories – or thinking in so-called canonical narratives – to thinking about multiple histories. Having a sense of curiosity, rather than a desire for pronouncement.” Of the three exhibitions in Paris, the first two, Picasso.Mania at the Grand Palais (described below) and Splendeurs et Misères, can probably be regarded as concerned with multiple histories, the third, Villa Flora (to follow), probably not.

Shows at the Grand Palais aren’t what they used to be. By comparison with their major retrospectives, Georges Braque in 2013 and Edward Hopper in 2012, Picasso.Mania seemed thin stuff. Its thesis was apparently that
After World War II, Picasso became renowned as a modern artistic genius. This public recognition came at a time when contemporary art was once again moving towards “avant-gardism”. This movement’s values, as incarnated by Marcel Duchamp, were in contradiction with Pablo Picasso’s flamboyant subjectivity, media presence and commercial success. As a result, it was only in 1971 that a collective tribute by living artists from different disciplines was organised for the artist’s 90th birthday. In the 1980s, exhibitions showed a new generation of artists how Picasso’s later works were years ahead of his time.
A proposition which was not exactly supported by telling visitors that in the 1960s Roy Lichtenstein was inspired by Picasso and that David Hockney was a repeat visitor to the Picasso exhibition at the Tate in 1960. The show made a good initial impression with Sort of Fabulous (2015), a video installation of 18 artists talking about the impact of Picasso on their work, including Jeff Koons, Frank Gehry, Thomas Houseago and Cecily Brown. An unspooling of art history then followed, starting with All hail the artist!, the Self-Portrait of 1901 (below left), borrowed from the Picasso Museum, and some recent images of the artist including Van Pei Ming’s Portrait of Picasso (2009, below centre) and Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled (2012, below right):

and some of the 90th birthday lithographs from 1971:

The most successful of the exhibition themes which followed was probably that given over to cubism – a wall of Picassos:

and then a homage in the form of various works, many by David Hockney, beginning with his Artist and Model (1973/4, below left) and Harlequin (1975, below right):

From the 1980s onwards Hockney explored multiple viewpoints evoking cubism (“a kind of mechanical cubism”) in, for example, Paint Trolley, LA (1985, below top) and Place Ferstenberg, Paris, August 7, 8, 9 (1985, below lower):

More recent Hockney works were The Jugglers, June 24th 2012 (2012, below), 18 films on 18 screens shown over 22 minutes:

and A Bigger Card Players (2015), as at Annely Juda Fine Art, London last summer. After that, the show began to meander. Picasso on screen projected on three walls clips from a wide variety of films (below) in which either the painter or his works or both appear, ranging from Truffaut’s Jules et Jim to Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Demoiselles from elsewhere and Guernica, a political icon were both Hamlet without the prince, the originals not being available. Various works inspired by Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), included Untitled by Sigmar Polke (2006, below top) and Jeff Koons’ Antiquity (2011, below lower):

Of the works pertinent to Guernica, one of the most interesting to British eyes was Goshka Macuga’s construction, The Nature of the Beast (2009), commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery in memory of their having exhibited Guernica in 1939 and now owned by the Castello di Rivoli (below left). Part of the work is a glazed circular table which exhibits documents relating to the Spanish civil war and more recent conflicts. I thought the photographs from the Whitechapel’s archive of Clement Attlee in 1939 were thought-provoking (below right) – there is a mention of the Major Attlee Company (sic) in his Wikipedia entry.

After this, a section, It’s a Picasso!, grouped his paintings and prints from the late 1930s and later:

and then some pieces relevant to Picasso and Pop art’s reaction to abstract expressionism including Andy Warhol’s Head (after Picasso) No III (1966, below right top) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Still Life after Picasso (1964, below right lower):

Out of what followed, the impact of Picasso on Jasper Johns’ The Seasons (1985 – 87, Summer below left) with, nearby, Picasso’s Minotaure à la carriole (1936, below right) was notable:

A section covering the media attention Picasso received in his later years was followed by a large display of his late works, some reminiscent of Japanese shunga, seen at Avignon in 1970 and 1973. The final theme was the impact on artists in New York of the Guggenheim’s 1984 Picasso show, for example Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Pablo Picasso) (1984, below):

Picasso.Mania ends on 29 February 2016.

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