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View of “Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction,” 2016–17. From left: Dances à la source [II] (Dances at the Spring [II]), 1912; Les pins, effet de soleil à Saint-Honorat (Cannes) (Pine Trees, Effect of Sunlight at Saint-Honorat [Cannes]), 1906. Photo: Martin Seck.

Francis Picabia

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

View of “Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction,” 2016–17. From left: Dances à la source [II] (Dances at the Spring [II]), 1912; Les pins, effet de soleil à Saint-Honorat (Cannes) (Pine Trees, Effect of Sunlight at Saint-Honorat [Cannes]), 1906. Photo: Martin Seck.

JOINING FORCES with Cathérine Hug of Kunsthaus Zürich, curator Anne Umland of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, assembled roughly two hundred opinion-shifting works by the wildly mercurial Franco-Cubanartist Francis Picabia (1879–1953). Some 125 of them were paintings; the rest comprised drawings, illustrations, film, and period ephemera. The exhibition’s title, “Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction”—a Picabia aphorism—underscored the jarring discontinuities that marked the painter’s seemingly discordant sequence of styles. Perhaps, given the spoiled, vain, uxorious heir to a vast sugar fortune that he was, style to him was little more than a momentary distraction to be abandoned at the first onset of tedium.

Then again, latitude and license would be natural responses to the terrifyingly chaotic time in which Picabia lived, a period that saw the

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