Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Naked Truth

Goya's Naked Maja

And Picasso's

A new show of Picasso's works inspired by the Masters that also includes the Masterworks themselves is taking place in Paris. Here is the Herald Tribune's take:

From across the centuries, a different view of Picasso

PARIS: Picasso, master of invention - or reinvention? A major exhibition being held simultaneously in three Paris museums attempts to answer this question by juxtaposing works by the great Spanish modernist against paintings by earlier masters, from Rembrandt, Velázquez and Delacroix to Manet and Cézanne.

The result is both an astonishing panorama of European art, with many of the world's most famous masterpieces brought together for the first time, and a thought-provoking exploration of the creative process as Picasso's talent for transforming and distorting is tracked from his days as an art student in Barcelona to his last years in southern France.

At the Grand Palais, where the main exhibition, "Picasso and the Masters," opened Wednesday, perhaps the most remarkable display is in the final room, where nudes painted by Picasso at various stages of his long career hang side by side with the most famous nudes of Western art: Goya's "Nude Maja" (circa 1797-1800); Manet's "Olympia" (1863); Titian's "Venus with Cupid and an Organist" (1548); Ingres's "Odalisque en Grisaille" (circa 1824-34), and Rembrandt's semi-clad "Woman Bathing in a Stream" (1654).

This approach prevails throughout the exhibition, which throws chronology out the window and proceeds by themes in order to demonstrate how Picasso absorbed and transmogrified the work of his predecessors to redefine our understanding of art in the 20th century. The nonlinear arrangement startlingly reveals the conscious or subconscious connections forged by Picasso, as though he had processed all of Western art history through an ingenious computer - his brain.

"This exhibition is a revolution in the way we look at art," said Anne Baldassari, director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, who curated the show at the Grand Palais. "It is a kind of miracle to assemble these works, which have never been shown before, and they have been brought together today thanks to Picasso. He is the one who connected the most important canvases. It is as though we are entering into the magic circle of painting."

The arresting juxtaposition of paintings from across the centuries strikes the visitor from the very first moment at the Grand Palais, where the exhibition opens with a self-portrait of Picasso wearing a wig that he painted in 1897, when he was just 16. Beside it are a series of self-portraits, including a Delacroix from 1837, that appear to be reflected in the young Picasso's. While it is nothing unusual for artists to draw inspiration from others, this exhibition displays the depth of Picasso's artistic erudition and powers of reinvention. In the same room a second self-portrait, "Yo, Picasso" (1901), is flanked by self-portraits of Rembrandt at his easel (1660) and Gauguin with his palette (1893-94); the connection is the magnetic gaze of each of the artists. A third wall features self-portraits by Goya (1783), Cézanne (1873-76), Nicolas Poussin (1650), and Picasso (1906), this time linked by the gravity of the countenance.

Some of the juxtapositions can appear far-fetched - El Greco's "Dream of Philip II (Adoration of the Name of Jesus)" of 1579 bears little obvious resemblance to Picasso's "Evocation, the Burial of Casagemas" (1901), which launched his Blue Period. But in a quote displayed on the wall, Picasso himself links the elongated figures of his Blue Period to El Greco.

Other times Picasso deliberately played with the work of a predecessor. At the Grand Palais, Poussin's "Rape of the Sabine Women" (1637-38) was the springboard for works of the same title that Picasso painted in 1962, some clearly echoing the original, others reinterpreting the theme in a way that Poussin could hardly have imagined.

A sister exhibition at the Louvre displays variations on Delacroix's "Women of Algiers in Their Apartment" (1834) that Picasso executed in 1954-55. The third exhibition, at the Musée d'Orsay, fascinatingly explores Picasso's obsession with Manet's "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe" which scandalized Paris in 1863, with its nude woman and her clothed male companions enjoying a picnic.

Nearly as fascinating is the way these three exhibitions progressed from inspiration to reality. Curators succeeded in assembling more than 200 works by the West's greatest artists - which, together with the Picassos, are valued at more than €2 billion, or $2.72 billion, according to Le Monde - via diplomacy, bargaining and outright barter. For example, Baldassari said, to obtain a dozen paintings from the National Gallery in London she loaned that museum 25 Picassos for an exhibition it is holding next year.

The French government and private sponsors poured money into the Grand Palais exhibition, which cost an estimated €4.3 million to organize, Le Monde reported, and is one of the most expensive art events ever held in France. To offset the cost, the Grand Palais has extended its opening hours to 10 p.m. five nights a week for the duration of the exhibition, which closes Feb. 2 and will not travel abroad.


Here, btw, is Picasso's Maja and many other of his versions of the Masters and their originals:


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