Mexico City

“Los Picassos De Picasso En Mexico”

This show looked at Picasso from the exciting perspective of the artist’s personal collection of his own work. Presumably Picasso retained the works for his own enjoyment and use; no doubt many of them held special significance for him, as turning points in different directions, treatments of favorite subjects, or sentimental icons. The majority of the 175 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints came from the Musée Picasso in Paris, and were filled out with some additional examples from private collections, including those of the Picasso heirs. The selection, made by William S. Lieberman, the chairman of the 20th century-art department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, surveyed Picasso’s development from 1895 to 1970. Top-notch examples, including both familiar and rarely seen items, encouraged fresh speculation on certain aspects of Picasso’s complex pictorial psyche.

One of the provocative issues brought out here was the artist’s deep, life-long interest in Edouard Manet. In Dancing Couple, 1919, Picasso, working in a caricaturish version of Synthetic Cubism, presents a man and woman in formal attire, locked together in a dancelike embrace. The weird, stylized figures appear to fade in and out of a flat, spatially ambiguous background. On a wall in the upper left of the painting the name “Manet” is smudged although legible; Picasso has written it in an even script recalling the French artist’s own signature. The alienated, fragmented atmosphere, cut-out figures, and shocking appeal of Dancing Couple may have reminded Picasso of Manet, but that artist crops up in even more overt fashion in two works from the early ’60s, both titled Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe after Manet. In the painted version, dated 1961, Picasso has radically altered Manet’s original; while he retains the revolutionary spirit and certain motifs from Manet, he aims to compete with and provoke his source. The elegance of Manet’s figures is brutally parodied by Picasso’s lumpy nudes, and his version, executed in a grisaillelike gray-and-white palette enlivened by blue and green, drastically simplifies the tonal surfaces of Manet’s work. In a linoleum-block print from 1962, colored in hot, brassy reds and yellows, Picasso reworks the gestures, poses, and relationships of the figures.

This print points to another aspect of Picasso’s work worth mentioning. The “Punk Picasso” palette evident here appears as early as 1935, in the Surrealist-idiom painting Woman Reading. A dynamic arrangement of purple, orange, green, and yellow passages, intensified by heavy black outlines and a few strategically placed dark-brown and black sections, the work brings to mind the direct and immediate qualities associated with the art of the ’80s. A contemporary appeal also animates the portrait of Dora Maar, 1937, which boasts vibrant, high-keyed surfaces dominated by juxtapositions of red and orange, green and yellow, and purple and blue, intensified, again, by the use of black outlining.

In The Bull, an extraordinary series of 11 lithographs executed in 1945–46, Picasso’s keen analytical/descriptive abilities are strongly evident. Starting with a single bull shown standing from a three-quarters angle facing right, Picasso repeats the pose with stylistic variations which allow him to investigate the weight and power characteristic of the animal. From a realist starting point he proceeds through degrees of abstraction, finally arriving at a single contour line drawing.

At every turn, this exhibition held agreeable surprises. Though the blockbuster Picasso retrospective of 1980, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, attempted to define Picasso’s image as an artist for all time, he remains, as this exhibition most intriguingly reveals, one of the most defiantly elusive personalities in 20th-century art.

Ronny H. Cohen