The Art Gallery of New South Wales is exhibiting ‘Picasso – Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris’, between 12 November 2011 and 25 March 2012. This travelling Picasso exhibition has been tailored to Australia’s cultural and political history by the current President of Musee Picasso, Anne Baldassari.
Baldassari considered the relevance of Picasso’s African masks, sculptures and totems when understanding the importance of Aboriginal Indigenous Art to Australia. She also acknowledges the significance of strong women historically within Australia boasting among the first countries to invite the female vote. This has all been achieved via the inclusion of ‘five studies for Les demoiselles d’Avignon, together with over twenty cubist paintings, drawings and etchings from 1907-1918,’ and ‘Picasso’s portraits of dynamic women’. (F. Brauer, P.230 Art & Australia, 2012)
The inclusion of the five Les Demoiselles studies is important when introducing the period spanning two rooms of the exhibition between 1906 and 1915. Here we see Picasso’s fascination with indigenous tribal art forms and shapes amalgamate and resolve itself in the form of this iconic painting which is largely responsible for the Cubism, collage and construction periods to follow.
Although the indigenous qualities (evident within this and later images) are far removed from that of the Australian indigenous artworks, the intent behind Baldassari’s decision making can be applauded. Picasso’s African masks , totems and sculptures from the Congo, Benin and the Ivory Coast were profoundly crucial in the development of his personal fondness of geometric and architectural forms. Baldassari’s Room 3, ‘Cubism, collage and constructions 1910-1915’ are further evidence of the foundation that Les demoiselles provided in the movements to follow.
Image 1 Pablo Picasso Les demoiselles d’Avignon 1907
Image unavailable Seated Nude (Study for Les demoiselles d’Avignon)
Room 2 – The enchantment of Oceania and Africa 1906-1909
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Olga in an armchair 1918
Room 4 – A return to classicism 1916-1924
Picasso’s Portrait of Olga in an armchair 1918 is an excellent example of Baldassari’s ‘strong women’ curatorial element due to the muse’s identity as Ballet Russes celebrated dancer Olga Koklova (1891-1954). Olga has been painted with a tenderness suggestive of ‘A return to classicism’ which is the name attributed to Room 4 (1916-1924) of the exhibition. The marble like appearance of her flesh and stoic expression upon her face, combined with the rendering of the gentle folds in the fabric are testimony to the powerful impressions that Picasso’s first journey south of France and Italy afforded. It was the classic beauty and naturalism of ancient Rome and Pompeii that Picasso acquired during this trip combined with his collaboration on the ballet Parade (composed by Eric Satie) that resulted in and drew from Picasso’s circus images and ability to utilise patterns and colour.
This painting was one of many of Picasso’s personal collection of works, of which he had refused to relinquish whilst living and which became the property of the French State in lieu of taxes upon his death in 1973. This is known as ‘payment in kind’ or dation, the works of which were later to reside within the seventeenth century Hotel Sale which is currently known (as transformed by Roland Simounet) as the Musee National Picasso. The collection now amounts to some 5000 works exists also due to generous bequests of Picasso’s heirs, ‘through the great bequest of 1979, followed in 1990 by the bequest of Jacueline Picasso (1927-1986)’ (Picasso, 2012 Preface,Baldassari).
The exhibition concurrently contains representations of each period of Picasso’s lengthy career between 1895 and 1972 with a wide range of mediums for which he is well known. The Oxford Dictionary of Art states; ‘…his energy and imagination were such that he was at all times working on a wealth of themes and in a variety of styles. He himself said: ‘The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution, or as steps towards an unknown ideal of painting. When I have founds something to express, I have done it without thinking of the past or future’. If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression, I haven’t hesitated to adopt them’.
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar 1937
Room 6 – Anxieties of love and War 1936-1939
This principle can be seen in another strong female Portrait of Dora Maar 1937 which can be found in Room 6 – Anxieties of love and war 1936-1939. Dora was a surrealist photographer and writer and became Picasso’s lover only after the end of his marriage to Olga and the conclusion of another affair with (then pregnant) Marie-Therese. Maar (1907-1997) was an important female in Picasso’s life as she became his official photographer in the same year 1937 as the bombing of the Basque town by right wing nationalists. ‘Guernica’ was the significant work that this period inspired which has since become a compelling and influential anti-war painting.
This period of unrest continued into World War II to Korea which was the thematic to Room 7 spanning 1940-1951. Massacre in Korea 1951 combined his ‘weeping women’ victims alongside children standing opposite a vicious firing squad. This painting is compositionally similar to The third of May 1806 by Francisco de Goya.
The entry and opening quotation for the exhibition states ‘I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings finished or not, are the pages from my diary’ and this quote is featured in an otherwise bare atrium which is painted grey and evokes an austere reverence and indication toward how the show should be viewed. There are ten rooms acting as a visual catalogue listing a chronological depiction of Picasso’s personal fears or anxieties, desires and passions, his revulsion towards war and the instability and rigidity of human life; and as such the appearance of the exhibition takes upon itself to render a visual diary upon its predominantly white walls. Rooms six and seven also have grey walls and depict far more emotionally captivating periods such as The Anxieties of love and war 1936-1939 and World War II Korea 1940-1951.
The exhibited (150 individual) works as chosen by Baldassari have been thoughtfully selected and hung in a rational fashion and act as a teaser to entice the public to perhaps venture to the home of the entire collection from Musee Picasso, France at the completion of their restorations.
Pablo Picasso, Massacre in Korea 1951 Room 7 – World War II to Korea 1940-1951
Note: similarities between this and that of Francisco de Goya, The third of May, 1806