In: Ovid

“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time,” on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, delves into the friendship between Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. It explores how the lives of these two 20th-century artists briefly intersected, and the ways they drew inspiration from the ancient visual culture of their respective countries.

The exhibition, which is arranged in a very linear manner, compares Picasso’s and Rivera’s artistic trajectories. This allows the visitor to see how both artists progressed through their early academic training, experimented with different stylistic modes, and shared an interest in antiquity. The works reveal that there was a dialogue between these two artists that spanned cultural and geographic boundaries.

Diego Rivera,’Flower Day (Día de Flores)’, 1925. Oil on canvas, 58 × 47 1/2 in. (147.32 × 120.65 cm). LACMA. © 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Reproduction of Diego Rivera governed by Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.

The display presents a give-and-take between the two artists: Picasso’s Cubism heavily influencing Rivera’s work when they were both in Paris in 1914, and Rivera’s colorful, hefty figures subtly impacting Picasso’s classical style. The paintings included in the exhibition allow for a great deal of one-to-one comparisons between the two artists. But at times, the artworks are dwarfed by the scale of the galleries, giving the viewer a sense that they may have been better viewed in a smaller gallery space.

The largest and most striking room is at the center of the exhibition. Rivera and Picasso’s images are juxtaposed with ancient sculptures that reveal how their styles absorbed the influence of ancient forms. This was the first time I had ever seen ancient Mesoamerican sculpture displayed in tandem with ancient Classical sculpture. During the interwar years, Rivera reexamined the tradition of Aztec sculpture in his native Mexico which informed the mature style that he is most recognized for. The exhibition includes loans from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City that are paired with Rivera’s gorgeous Flower Day (1925).

LACMA gallery display of Picasso and Greco-Roman sculpture. Photo: Emma Holter.

Picasso was in still in Paris between World War I & II, and his more traditional classicizing figures demonstrate his renewed interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and Iberian art. In the exhibition, classical sculpture -mostly loans from the Getty Museum- is juxtaposed with Picasso’s ‘return to order’ paintings such as Etudes (1920) and Three Women at the Spring (1921).

The final rooms explore how Picasso and Rivera’s artistic practices diverged after World War I. Mexico’s Ministry of Education commissioned Rivera to create murals that would unify the nation through revolutionary imagery. Through his study of Pre-Columbian sculpture (and his collection of over 6,000 ceramic and stone figurines) and Aztec creation myths, he imbued his images of a new, modern Mexico with aesthetics of the past. On the other hand, during the 1930s Picasso was revisiting Greek and Roman mythology -especially Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the myth of the Minotaur- and reworking classical tropes of depicting these narratives.

Pablo Picasso, ‘Three Women at the Spring’, 1921. Oil on canvas, 6′ 8 1/4″ x 68 1/2″ (203.9 x 174 cm), MoMA. © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Beyond comparing the two artists’ work, the exhibition aims to stress how Picasso and Rivera were inspired by ancient sources throughout their careers, and how their friendship or artistic rivalry fueled those investigations.

“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time” is on view at LACMA through May 7th, 2017, and will travel to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in June 2017.

Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.

A sculpture by Bernardí Roig at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. Photo Gerardo López López.

A sculpture by Bernardí Roig at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. Photo: Gerardo López López.

This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.

Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid. Foto: Pedro Martínez de Albornoz

Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid. Photo: Pedro Martínez de Albornoz

In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.

The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.

'Fauno in love', 2014. Photo: Guillermo Gumiel.

‘Fauno in love’, 2014. Photo: Guillermo Gumiel.

The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

'Diana y Acteón', 2005. Image courtesy of Galería Max Estrella.

‘Diana and Actaeon’, 2005. Image courtesy of Galería Max Estrella.

One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.

Left: 'GERMANIA', 2015. Right: 'Der Italiener (the ox)', 2011.

Left: ‘GERMANIA’, 2015. Right: ‘Der Italiener (the ox)’, 2011.

Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series POETS. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.

‘POETS’, 2016.

As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.

If you happen to be in Argentina this summer, do not miss Roig’s exhibition at MUNTREF, in Buenos Aires. To know more about the artist, I recommend watching this interview.


A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!