Claimed by critics, professors, professionals and art snobs everywhere as a “once in a lifetime experience,” the Picasso Sculpture exhibition at the Modern Museum of Art stands up to this promise. It is Picasso as we’ve rarely ever seen him before…or dare I say, never seen him before. He is at his weirdest and most innovative (if he could get any weirder), revealing another dimension of his creative side that is lesser known to the general public and less studied at the academic level.
Needless to say, being the art nerd that I am, I was immediately hooked.
This comprehensive exhibition tracks Picasso’s sculptural and three-dimensional progression from the beginning of the 20th century up until about ten years before his death in 1973. It gives us a taste of his diverse and endless talents, not only as a painter but as a sculptor, ceramicist, and metal worker. Is there anything he can’t do? While working in a plethora of mediums, he used a number of different materials: wood, metal, bronze, plaster, stone, cardboard, nails, steel, various types of clay, terracotta and found objects. Essentially, anything he used anything he could get his hands on and transformed it into a vision of the near-abstract or a vague familiarity. The Venus of Gas, a small figure made of iron, was brought to life when a simple burner and pipe from a gas stove caught Picasso’s eye and reminded him of the charming prehistoric Venus figurines. When looking at it, you can’t help but smile to yourself and think, “Only Picasso.”
The show is organized as a chronological overview of Picasso’s different sculptural phases and as corresponding to where he was living, the political conditions at the time, and other artistic trends. The galleries are grouped according to themes: The Cubist Years, The Monument to Apollinaire, The Boisgeloup Sculpture Studio (with the various renditions of the well-known Head of Woman, where he worked almost entirely in plaster with Marie-Therese Walter as his muse), The War Years, Vallauris Ceramics and Assemblages, and the final phase of Sheet Metal Sculptures.
One of the things that stumped me was the first gallery. When you arrive at the fourth floor, the Sheet Metal sculptures (the final phase) initially greet you in their recognizable Picasso styled eccentricity. We have the basics: female figures with disfigured faces and angular bodies, Chair which looks more like a first grade paper cutting project than anything else, and vibrant colors that break any vision of naturalism. This is the Picasso we all know, in all of its strangeness it is familiar and helps ease us into the exhibit.
One has the feeling of confusion, amazement, intrigue upon entering each new gallery. And once you are finished, you just want to go back around again. For every rotation can reveal something new–another detail, another link, another surprise, another piece of evidence suggesting at Picasso’s relentless genius. (Dude grinds real hard). Once you’ve come full circle again, the first room becomes more clear and you can see how Picasso has gotten there. It’s like solving the ultimate modernist puzzle….but is it ever really solved?
Ultimately, the show is incredibly fun. Be it a serious art historian or a casual fan, everyone was circling around the sculptures, brows furrowed and smiles cracked at the bizarre visions Picasso brought to life. For anyone who is familiar with some of his other works, we can see that he was literally making art all of the time (grind so hard, am I right?) and constantly experimenting. These sculptures help us understand how he achieved and envisioned his paintings.
One of my personal favorites, Baboon and Young, is found in the second to last gallery. Picasso used his son’s toy cars to create bronze molds that he stacked on top of each other, wheel to wheel, to produce the animal’s playful head. (I’m sure his son was thrilled with this one.) The catch–it actually looks like a baboon. Honestly, who else would look at their son in the middle of playing cars and think, “Ah, a baboon head!” Again, only Picasso. It’s absolutely fabulous.
If this exhibit does anything, it shows us how much fun Picasso had tinkering away with form and perspective. He could take any ordinary or dumpy object and turn it into something completely new. I can’t wait to go again for round two.
Picasso Sculpture is on display at MoMA until February 7th, 2016.