|Pablo Picasso’s life, works and associations are the central core of this remarkable exhibition, drawn almost entirely from the Philadelphia Museum’s own collection, a large part of which was bequeathed by Albert Eugene Gallatin in 1952. Eleven galleries of paintings, collages, sculptures, and drawings organized by periods are on view, including a wealth of works on paper that are too fragile to be exhibited for lengthy periods of time. The museum has developed an interesting web presence for this exhibition, providing video clips of the main curator and contributor’s comments, a guide to the galleries with short informative essays, and enlargeable images of selected works in the show, as well as a Chronology and online Discussion forum.|
L. Brandon Krall
Pablo Picasso’s life, works and associations are the central core of this remarkable exhibition, drawn almost entirely from the Philadelphia Museum’s own collection, a large part of which was bequeathed by Albert Eugene Gallatin in 1952. Eleven galleries of paintings, collages, sculptures, and drawings organized by periods are on view, including a wealth of works on paper that are too fragile to be exhibited for lengthy periods of time. The museum has developed an interesting web presence for this exhibition, providing video clips of the main curator and contributor’s comments, a guide to the galleries with short informative essays, and enlargeable images of selected works in the show, as well as a Chronology and online Discussion forum.
Paradigmatic artist and creative, Picasso (1881–1973) can not be fully appreciated apart from the context of his times, and his meteoric rise to stardom as a prolific and precociously talented painter at the turn of the century was tied to his full engagement in the worlds of theatre, film, music, and dance that existed in Paris during it’s transition from the Belle Époque into the 20th century. The rise of industrial culture and the emergence of a bourgeois class, the evolution of female identity and freedom from traditions, the advent of electricity, the telephone, the automobile, and aviation were part of that transition. World War I, the machine age and World War II were parallel to changes in the sciences and advances in medicine including the discovery of penicillin; all profoundly affecting the human condition and cultural development. Picasso is appreciated for the variety of materials that he worked with and the mastery, versatility, and wit with which his work is imbued. But neither Picasso nor the other artists working in Paris in the first decade of the 20th century declared them selves to be “Cubists.” More often than not, the critical and literary community addresses and describes the movement from the works, as in the case of Cubism, which was first used by a critic in a derisory review in 1908, followed in 1914 by publication of The Cubist Painters by Guillaume Apollinaire, which identified and made popular the diverse practitioners, unique artists whose approaches to the reinvention of pictorial representation were subsumed under the misleading term “Cubist.”
Picasso and Braque developed collage with Juan Gris on canvas and using preprinted papers and real corrugated cardboard among other elements. Gris’ paintings and collages are distinctive for their richness of coloration and uses of gradated shading, unlike the Synthetic Cubist works produced by Picasso and Braque, which are distinctive for their structural rigor and minimal use of color. All three played with words in their paintings and collages either applying or abstracting fragments or texts from newspapers, as the recurrent word JOU (“play” in English) from “Journal” (the title of a daily newspaper was, Le Journal) attests. However, only Picasso and Braque were shown by the art dealer D. H. Kahnweiler, who insisted that their canvases of this period not be included in large survey shows of the time. For example, they did not show in the annual Salon d’Automne where numerous contemporary painters and sculptors exhibited. The participating artists works were widely varied, placing together sculpture, drawings, and canvases by Redon, Léger, Gleizes, Delaunay, Kupka, Picabia, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, both of whom were the elder brothers of Marcel Duchamp. They were on the organizing committee of the 1912, Salon d’Automne, and it is interesting to know that Marcel Duchamp submitted to that show, “Nu decendant l’escalier,” (executed in distinct minimally hued tones achieved by painting in gas light), with the title painted on the front of the canvas in bright cadmium red. The paint has faded so much that it is barely noticeable today. This famous painting is hanging in the Salon Cubism gallery beside a Picabia of about the same scale, which is painted in brilliant shades of red that have not faded. Because the title of Nude Descending a Staircase, was painted on the front of the canvas and the subject’s painting was a nude, in movement, and for reasons relating perhaps to confusion with Italian Futurism, the hanging committee requested of Marcel through his two brothers, Duchamp-Villon and Villon, remove the title from the canvas if it was to be hung. Marcel Duchamp said nothing to his brothers; he took the painting away and decided not to participate with group activities of this kind in the future. A year later, at the American Armory Show of 1913, Nude Descending a Staircase, turned out to be a quintessential succès de scandale.
The Americans In Paris gallery includes selections of photographs, and a number of oil paintings and drawings. Paris in the first decades of the 20th century was charged with activity and visitors from around the world included Mexican, Diego Rivera, Italian Futurists, Dutchman Piet Mondrian, Russians including Sergei Eisenstein, and to name the better known Americans, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Alice Toklas, A. E. Gallatin, Alexander Calder, Max Weber, Man Ray, Lee Miller, Patrick Henry Bruce, Ernest Hemingway, John Marin, Charles Demuth, and Aaron Douglas. Douglas, whose photograph by Carl Van Vechten is in this galley, was an African-American painter, publisher, and illustrator central to the Harlem Renaissance. He and his wife spent 1931 living in Paris, studying painting and sharing the rich and varied cultural life of the city.
Albert Eugene Gallatin (1881 – 1951) is represented here by two oil paintings and a number of excellent portrait photographs. His Untitled No. 106, from 1949 is a very intelligent painting showing influences of Constructivism, Mondrian, and Cezanne. Widely known as A.E. Gallatin the collector, who lent a large quantity of this collection to New York University for decades, as a photographer it is revelatory to see portraits in this gallery that are really exceptional. The wealth of art works that he collected and bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum which are included in this exhibition, is inestimable in value and includes the famous Three Musicians.
Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was a ubiquitous figure in overlapping social spheres of New York and Paris, as evidenced by the choice black and white portrait photographs in the Americans in Paris gallery. Important and under-recognized, Van Vechten began writing for the New York Times as an assistant music critic and around 1909 he became the first American critic of modern dance. On close terms with Leo and Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, he was also portrait photographer and patron of the Harlem Renaissance. Married in 1914 to the actress Fania Marinoff, of whom Marcel Duchamp made an exceptional portrait by writing while pulling a page through a typewriter, Van Vechten is considered to have been either gay or bisexual. His oeuvre of photographic portraits warrants a solo exhibition, and it is astonishing for the quality and quantity of his production; demonstrating his presence at the center of creative communities in both New York and Paris in the early part of the 20th century.
In the gallery Picasso and Surrealism, a display case shows rare and pristine black and white publications, like the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste and Minotaure, materials that defy the urge to turn their pages, but which indicate the richness of the museum’s Archives and Library. The assembly of paintings in this gallery has a tortured aspect due to the paranoid-critical work of Dali and the monstrous Minotaure imagery of Picasso, levened by lighter paintings by Chagal and Miro. Picasso was considered a Surrealist for a time by the quixotic “Pope of Surrealism,” Andre Breton, and Picasso was a friend and collaborator with Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Igor Stravinsky, and Meret Oppenheim. Sitting one day at a café with Oppenheim and Dora Maar, Oppenheim was wearing a fur bracelet she had invented (couturier Elza Schiaparelli was commissioning them for her collections) when a waiter brought a teacup and saucer to the table, provoking a remark from Picasso, which triggered Oppenheim to realize the famous fur lined tea cup and saucer. She proceeded to make the piece and it was shown to universal acclaim in the next Surrealist exhibition.
Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture is well represented in the Philadelphia Museum collection thanks in large part to Marcel Duchamp; they were very good friends in Paris and Duchamp arranged the first major exhibition of Brancusi’s work in New York, changing fine art importation laws in the process. The gallery titled, Eastern Europeans in Paris, is dominated by the sublime white marble sculpture, Mademoiselle Pogany (III), the third in a series, which sits on a limestone and oak four-part base, magnificently placed in front of and framed in space by the wooden Arch, also by Brancusi. What is particularly electrifying in this connection is seeing the small, tortured looking, self-portrait in oils of 1913 by Margit Pogany herself, adjacent to it. Also in this gallery is Louis Marcousis’ dry point portrait of Apollinare, and several painted wood reliefs by Alexander Archipenko. The small self-portrait in oils by Chagal is beautifully executed in muted Fauve colors and remarkable for an almost feminine personage who looks intently out of the canvas.
The final gallery, Death and Sacrifice, makes sense in terms of the chronological arrangement of the show but thematically it is confusing because of the overtly Christian religious imagery of most works in it. The Surrealists and most of the artists of the Pariasian Avent Garde were decidedly anti-religious; a departing visitor leaves with a sense of tragedy and despair but the works on view are a totally engaging pleasure to behold.
Celebrating Picasso, also at the Philadelphia Museum in the Library, documents the acquisition of major paintings by Picasso. Both renowned masterpieces, Self-Portrait with Palette (1906) and Three Musicians (1921), were given to the museum with the Albert Eugene Gallatin bequest in 1952. And in 1950, the Walter and Louise Arensberg Collection, was donated which included major works by Picasso among other major artists of the 20th century, the most obvious being the collection of Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre in this exhibit which makes connections among active participants who created such an extraordinary social and cultural milieu.
Opening in New York on April 27th and running through August 1st is an exhibition in New York titled, Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.