Gisors and Paris, France

César, Hayon corail (Coral Tailgate), 1986, compressed automotive element, painted sheet metal, 62 1⁄2 × 54 3⁄4".

César, Hayon corail (Coral Tailgate), 1986, compressed automotive element, painted sheet metal, 62 1⁄2 × 54 3⁄4".


Château de Boisgeloup and Musée National Picasso–Paris

The question of artistic influence stirs up ceaseless analysis and scrutiny. Probing the scope of creative sway—of the connective tissue between bodies of work—highlights not only aesthetic affinities but also relationships forged between cultural figures. One such recent dialogic configuration was “Hommage à César,” timed with the centenary of the French artist’s birth (he died in 1998), at Pablo Picasso’s former studio in Boisgeloup in Normandy. The display examined how César’s oeuvre was explicitly shaped by his admiring fealty to Picasso: interpersonally, based on their shared Mediterranean roots, and artistically, with César’s own sculptural practice deepened through his exposure to Picasso’s expansive technical and material mastery. Although César never visited Picasso in the Boisgeloup studio, he did spend time with the Spanish artist at other French ateliers in Cannes, Mougins, and Vauvenargues. Picasso’s work was in absentia here, but the weight of his legacy loomed.

A bronze thumb more than eleven feet tall, 1965/1988, placed before the elegant eighteenth-century property, was the first work visitors encountered on their arrival through the arched entryway. (Picasso purchased said property in 1930, partially for its vast outbuildings that made inside/outside work spaces very fluid; today it belongs to his grandson.) In an accompanying text, French curator and critic Éric Troncy writes that “this raised thumb seems to measure the landscape, as painters once did to perceive the proportions of their subject for an academic drawing exercise.” Yet this sculpture, a gleaming aberration springing forth from the manicured lawn, read less as an artistic barometer than as a cheeky disruption of the distinguished setting: a younger artist’s playful insubordination toward a venerated elder.

In the adjacent stable turned studio—its wide white doors flung open—Picasso often carved plaster and soldered iron. César’s works referenced this history through an ensemble of rough plaster sculptures and welded-bronze silhouettes, principally produced in 1980, which were set on wooden stools or plinths and backgrounded by craggy stone walls. Several sculptures portray Picasso’s countenance; others incarnate animalia tied to his pictorial universe. These were joined by a 1995 “Compression” piece and a nineteenth-century chair fashioned from animal horns that the artist owned.

Of César’s works on display here, the one with the most striking placement was Hayon Corail (Coral Tailgate), 1986, a compressed fragment of a red hatchback automobile—one of many such knocked-around race cars too mangled to be salvaged that César recuperated from Peugeot and used as source material. The piece was hung like a holy relic above the altar of the estate’s thirteenth-century chapel. Its sheer brashness amid the hushed, meditative space (demurely ornamented with stained-glass windows; flaking paintings of biblical scenes; low, rush-seated chairs; and a wooden confessional) is what rendered it so impactful. In this way, the work aptly honored the spirit of Picasso, whose experiments jostled and transformed the parameters of formal and conceptual propriety.

Three more of César’s works were presented at Musée national Picasso-Paris in the Marais. César’s Centaure—dreamed up in 1976 and produced thereafter in multiple versions and scales, here in welded bronze from 1983—was placed atop the dramatic staircase of the hôtel particulier the museum occupies. César pushed the hybridity of the mythological horse/man creature further: He visibly replicated his own facial traits, but with a mask of Picasso’s visage hoisted, visor-like, above the forehead, highlighting how one artist’s creative saga hinges on his predecessor’s.