At SDMA, a new side of Picasso comes to light
The works on exhibit, which span the artist’s seven-decade-long career, are curated from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 20,000 pieces of art, which includes 64 Picassos
Just like the incongruous features of his cubist portraits, Pablo Picasso’s disparate artistic styles, mediums and interests create a remarkable whole.
Over his long and prolific career, Picasso showed an endless ability to experiment and innovate. His art is often divided into stages — the Blue Period, the Rose Period, cubism and neoclassical period, to name a few.
Known as a painter, sculptor, print maker, stage designer and ceramicist, Picasso also produced a remarkable number of works on paper.
The San Diego Museum of Art will showcase 17 of those pieces, plus one of his ceramics and an ink drawing by Henri Matisse, in “Picasso: Drawings and Prints,” which opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 29.
The works, which span the artist’s seven-decade-long career, are curated from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 20,000 pieces of art, which includes 64 Picassos.
“I’m always trying to find opportunities to show off what we have that’s typically in dark storage,” said Michael Brown, curator of European art at the museum, who organized the exhibition.
“We have a real depth of works on paper that typically can’t be shown without extensive periods of rest time because they are highly light sensitive. Paper deteriorates in natural light, and so typically these things stay in dark storage for years at a time,” he said. “We haven’t shown Picasso for a long time, and I was able to make a selection … that showcases Picasso in almost every decade of his career. It’s a chance for us to really celebrate that collection we’re lucky to have here in San Diego.”
Picasso, one of the world’s most recognized artists, turned the art world upside down in 1907 with the creation of cubism, which he invented with artist Georges Braque in Paris.
“The idea of cubism, which does incorporate abstractions, is really looking at planes of space kind of overlapping each other. It’s a different way of looking at spatial reality. It’s very geometrical,” Brown said. “It was revolutionary. It turned the academic approach to art on its head. Picasso understood what he was doing because he had come out of this kind of (academic) training.”
A small man — he was 5-foot-4 — with a huge personality, Picasso moved to Paris at the beginning of the 1900s and lived in France for the rest of his 92 years. He was born on Oct. 23, 1881, in Málaga, Spain. His father was an artist, and Picasso was enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, where his father taught, by the time he was 13. For a short time, before heading to Paris, he moved on to Madrid’s renowned Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
John Welchman, distinguished professor of art history at the University of California San Diego, described Picasso as restless, passionate and macho. The artist was married twice and had innumerable lovers, who were often his subjects.
“The established view of Picasso as a force of nature or irrepressible genius has given way somewhat — though by no means entirely — to more recent assessments of his capacity to objectify (women), to appropriate (e.g., African ritual objects displayed in colonial-era collections) and to create with a kind of untroubled narcissism,” Welchman said via email.
Picasso’s personal life is intricately entwined with his art. Beyond the women in his life, he painted his friends and family, everyday objects and characters of Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood, where he lived for a time. He also wasn’t afraid of delving into social issues and illustrating the atrocities of war. (His famous painting “Guernica” depicts the Nazi bombing of the Spanish village of the same name.)
Nothing to prove
His earliest work on display in the upcoming exhibition is “The Frugal Repast,” an etching dating from 1904 of a very thin couple at the table in front of an empty plate.
“He’s bringing an eye for the social issues that he encountered in Paris. It was gritty. There was a lot of poverty around him that he showed in his artwork. And he understood that the reality of printmaking is that there are multiples, and so they would be disseminated around the world. It reflects the social reality of Paris at the time, which was meant to be this enlightened place,” Brown said.
On the other end of spectrum, his final work in the show, drawn on July 5, 1970, when he was 89, is a colorful pastel and crayon piece called “Painter and Model III.” The painter is wearing Picasso’s trademark striped Breton sailor shirt. The Roman numeral three indicates it was his third version of the subject that day.
“We’re talking about an artist who’s in his 80s and just working with nothing but joy,” Brown said. “It’s an interesting way to see late Picasso because he’s very much freed at this point to experiment with color. He has nothing to prove. He’s just painting and drawing with full confidence. People talk about artists late in their careers losing a step, but that just didn’t happen.”
Brown added one Matisse to the exhibition, showcasing the two most influential avant-garde artists of the 20th century side by side. The two were friends and rivals.
“I think that comparing this very elegant pen and ink drawing by Matisse, with works from a similar period by Picasso, shows how the two artists really did feed off of each other,” Brown said. “Matisse described their relationship as an ever-evolving boxing match.”
The one ceramic in the exhibition highlights a different aspect of Picasso’s art. He created the design for the vase in 1953, which was then made by potters in Vallauris, France, which is still a center for ceramics today. The collaborative pottery was a way for people to buy a Picasso, who was by then famous, without spending too much money.
“Although he was the inventor or the co-inventor of cubism, cubism is only one of the defining styles that he experimented with,” Brown said. “I think we’re lucky to be able to show his development through the decades.”
“He himself said his art was essentially like an autobiography. His life comes through, good and bad. That’s what makes Picasso relevant to this day.”
‘Picasso: Drawings and Prints’
When: Through Jan. 29
Where: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
Phone: (619) 232–7931
Schimitschek is a freelance writer.
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