Crown Prince

Nicolas Trembley on “Prince/Picasso” at the Museo Picasso Málaga

Left: Writer and dealer Bill Powers with writer James Frey. (Except where noted, all photos: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Artist Richard Prince. (Photo: Jesus Dominguez)

THE TWO MOST FAMOUS PEOPLE ever born in Málaga, Spain, are Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas. They’ll soon come together when the actor portrays the artist in filmmaker Carlos Saura’s biopic 33 dias. But on Monday, Málaga celebrated a different union, this one between Picasso and Richard Prince. The Prince/Picasso exhibition, which is being held at the Museo Picasso Málaga, was organized in collaboration with the artist’s grandson, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, and his wife, dealer Almine Rech, and the support of their foundation, FABA.

Prince arrived Saturday from New York on a private jet in the company of his friends writer James Frey and dealer Bill Powers, a copy of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia in hand. He immediately went to check out the installation, done by his studio coordinator, Eric Brown, and the director of the museum, José Lebrero Stals. He was delighted, and changed nothing at all. He told me: “This is a real show!”

The exhibition, which occupies two large Richard Gluckman–designed white marble rooms, consists of a hundred or so works made over the past two years. They all “cannibalize” (to use the current term) rather than “appropriate” Picasso. There’s also a never-before-exhibited series of graphite and watercolors from the early 1970s depicting dancers’ bodies. Proof that Prince had another life before he became a “photographer.”

Left: Bernard Ruiz-Picasso and dealer Almine Rech. Right: Museo Picasso Málaga director José Lebrero Stals.

In their recurrent use of naked female bodies that seem to dance or writhe, Prince’s paintings, collages, and photocollages reference the Master on several levels. There were representations of elephant-like hands and feet, as well as African masks in the place of faces. The bodies are depicted from several angles, and the “geometric” nipples of the women made from nuts and bolts are, of course, a reference to Cubism in general. “It’s a bit like a transformer in slow motion,” Powers suggested.

FABA director François Bellet gave us a special tour that elucidated the links between Prince’s works and the “originals,” which are on view in the permanent collection just a few feet away. Pauline Karpidas, who collects the work of both artists, was overjoyed. She explained to us that Warhol had also “appropriated” Picasso on the basis of drawings from her collection.

If the color palette chosen by Prince was rather grisaille, the weather in Málaga was quite sunny. The Ruiz-Picassos took us to lunch at a popular restaurant on the beach where they grill sardines on a stick over a wood fire; we bought sunglasses from street vendors and were quite happy.

The weekend was like a vacation. Prince and his friends went to the Alhambra in Granada, while we visited the church where Picasso was baptized. The gigantic yacht that used to belong to Paul Allen and now belongs to Qatari Sheikh Abdullah Ben Nasser Al-Thani (also owner of the Málaga football club) was parked in the marina in front of the hotel. In the evening, the guys got together in Prince’s suite to play poker with him and his pal Patrick Seguin. It was all very chic.

Left: Collector Pauline Karpidas with dealer Sadie Coles. Right: FABA director François Bellet with Jason Cori.

On Monday, though, it was back to work, with a press conference and the official opening. Rech and Ruiz-Picasso explained how this project showed Picasso’s influence on contemporary practices, and how Picasso himself had appropriated masters such as El Greco and Velázquez.

Prince, who is rather reserved, agreed to comment on the origin of the project: “I grew up with Picasso, and ever since I was a kid I’ve made drawings in his style. I had the opportunity to rediscover him, and it was a pleasure to use my brush in this way.” On a more spiritual note, he added, “The ability to draw or paint is a God-given talent.” The museum director, whose nickname is Pépé, told me that in this exhibition Prince was measuring himself against a giant, and could now be assured his place in the art canon.

For the opening, numerous collectors, such as Maurice and Tracey Amon and Emilio Ferre, had come all the way from Gstaad, Switzerland, where they were on vacation skiing. Even Tony Shafrazi was there, though he may have been feeling a bit sheepish about Picasso. (In 1974, he spray-painted the words KILL LIES ALL on Guernica when that painting was on view at MoMA.) Larry Gagosian seemed to be the only one missing. Apparently, he was held up at a tribute to Mike Kelley in LA. But the gallery’s Andy Avini did an admirable job as his proxy. A number of artists were also present, including Sylvie Fleury, Joe Bradley, and Matthias Bitzer.

Left: Artist Sylvie Fleury. Right: Collectors Tracey Amon and Emilio Ferre.

In the evening, Rech and Ruiz-Picasso invited everyone to the extraordinary traditional bodega El Pimpi, with its bullfighter decor, to sample plates of Manchego cheese and Iberian ham and to drink red wine from Andalusia (there was also Coke for the Americans). During the meal there was a flamenco show. The dancer, who looked like she was in a trance, impressed everyone, including dealer Sadie Coles. She had feared, she told me, that someone would ask her to go up onstage and play the castanets. Prince, on the other hand, was not able to get out of the traditional barrel signing before leaving the restaurant. He added his signature to the long list of autographs of stars, from Paloma Picasso to Tony Blair, before going back to his room for one last game of poker.

But he had already won the game. “I used to hang images of Pollock on my wall as well as Franz Kline in his studio,” he said. “I remember at home as a child a Life magazine with Picasso on the cover. I said repeatedly, ‘I feel a connection with these people. They are familiar to me; it’s natural.’ I put myself in that photograph. So if you ask me, ‘Why Picasso, and not Montgomery Clift or Che Guevara?’ This is all I ever wanted to do!”

Left: Dancer at El Pimpi. (Photo: Rik Bas Backer) Right: Richard Prince.

Left: Gagosian director Andy Avini. Right: Artist Joe Bradley.

Left: Artist Matthias Bitzer. Right: Laurence Seguin-Bergerot and Patrick Seguin.

Left: Eric Brown, studio coordinator for Richard Prince. Right: Almine Rech Gallery's Eloïse Benzekri and Sabine de Gunzburg.