New York

Pablo Picasso

Pace/MacGill Gallery

“Later he used to say quite often, paper lasts quite as well as paint and after all if it ages together why not, and he said, further, after all, later, no one will see the picture, they will see the legend of the picture, the legend that the picture has created, then it makes no difference if the picture lasts or does not last. Later they will restore it, a picture lives by its legend and not by anything else.” The discovery of so many “lost” sketchbooks by Pablo Picasso only confirms that what he told Gertrude Stein about masterpieces applies equally well to the reputations of the people who make them. How many Giorgione paintings are by Giorgione is a question of interest only to academics. By the same token, these more-or-less “new” Picassos will make neither more nor less difference to a legend that will, of course, be refurbished periodically but which remains a legend despite everything.

When Picasso succeeded Auguste Rodin as the epitome of artistic creativity he proved to be last in the line of succession. “Genius” is not a 20th-century ideal. The increasing embarrassment we feel about the deployment of strengths of, say Charlie Chaplin is a mark of our own distance from the entire idea of his career. The urge for change without development, the desire to entertain, the equation of predatory heterosexual behavior and artistic prowess. . .these and other characteristics separate Picasso from us, as they separate us from Honoré de Balzac or Victor Hugo. In the age of Andy Warhol, of Michel Foucault’s “death of the author,” changing concepts of originality have affected the kind of homage we feel is due to the figure of the endlessly fertile male artist.

Monsieur Picasso’s sketchbooks show how early he was imbued with the need to be an artist, with all the habits that eventually came to overwhelm him: the urge to sketch places, to draw the women he was attached to, to hoard the raw materials of his daily life such as visiting cards or pencils. They also show that he worked out ideas exhaustively, page by page, with a talent for being able to redraw perfectly those parts that satisfied him while experimenting with the others. To Picasso an idea was not an idea unless it could be thoroughly rehearsed, a physical involvement that militates against Roger Fry’s description of him as an “intellectual” It was his rehearsal of it, and his initial decision to involve it in his life, that mattered most, and the almost animal capacity for ingestion and expulsion, each expulsion marked with the same signature.

Is it any surprise, then, that these sketchbooks give away so little of his life, his thoughts, his secrets? Instead, they offer one more opportunity to see the great man put himself through his paces, with one virtuoso performance after another—a view of a garden, a leg in armor, a harlequin with a wand, a mother and child—like the excuse for a private life. Picasso’s popular success needs no explanation. The general public demands that art exist as autobiography. Picasso never stopped promising this yet never really made the connection. Instead, his was a life manufactured as a device to render him impervious.

Perhaps Picasso’s notebooks existed as proof to himself that he could produce masterpieces even without the benefit of an audience. Since he managed to do so, it is time to suspend definitions that never really applied, and to regard these and other sketchbooks as artworks in their own right, with their own characteristics and integrity In no way are they marginalia to the paintings or the sculptures or the theater designs. Indeed, they are proof that in the case of certain artists anything they make is interesting and relevant. Perhaps we are too fully enmeshed in the legend to ask why.

In the affiliated Pace/McGill Gallery Picasso photographs were on show—pictures of his studio, with maquettes and canvases, or, later, of himself with friends garlanded with scribbles by the maestro. As unassailable as a Franz Kafka letter, even these tiny, utterly seductive objects cannot be relegated to the status of memorabilia. They constitute works of art in their own right, the true demonstration that “genius” is only one more word for something no one is able to understand, much less review.

Stuart Morgan