Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Picasso Museum

No photography allowed in the Picasso museum, so I had to sneak this one.

Paris_Picasso-sculptures, originally uploaded by david_stirling.

Picasso troubles me. I have been trying for years to develop an appreciation for what he was doing. But I'm still haunted by the suspicion that he was above all a terrific self-promoter and extremely charismatic--that by the force of his personality he convinced people that his work was important and therefore it became de jure important.

But I have found that the best way of understanding what he was up to with those crazy distorted figures is to look at the studies he did in preparation for the final work. The Picasso museum in Barcelona has a fantastic exhibit where they project Velasquez's painting of Las Meninas, then gradually superimpose several of Picasso's studies, followed by his final piece (which is housed at that museum). Seeing them in sequence shows how he was deconstructing ideas of light and shape, in ways that I don't pretend to understand, but at least I can appreciate that he wasn't just splashing paint on the wall. Now, Pollack, that's another story.

But anyhow...

Most guidebooks will say the Paris Picasso museum is far more important than the Barcelona one. However, I found that the Barcelona museum has a lot more of his earlier works, especially from the blue period, which I really like. I thought it actually did a better job showing Picasso's development than the Paris museum did, even though that is specifically what the Paris museum claims to be doing. There's not enough of his more traditional paintings, so the transition to his cubist and post-cubist work seems abrupt. Futhermore, the commentary on the walls eschews commenting on his work in favor of giving more of a timeline of events and people he worked with, along with occasional quotes from him at those periods. Not to mention it's only in French, which means there were probably a lot of details I blipped over once I started to get tired.

That said, it is a very impressive building with a lovely courtyard (but a conspicuous lack of sculptures outside--only one spindly piece).

Photography was not permitted in the museum. In spite of this, dozens of people were brazenly waltzing though the rooms shooting photos at will. Of course, as soon as I pulled out my camera, that's when the guard barked "Photographie interdit!" It brought me right back to eighth grade, when I was invariably the only kid caught throwing erasers. So I positioned myself casually near a doorway, and at the right moment I was able to pretend my camera was a handkerchief and sneeze this photo. (No, not really.)


big cat said...

The remedy for this Picasso experience is a stiff dose of Brancusi. Get yourself to Brancusi's studio. He is the true master. You will not feel tricked or spoofed, rather you will be spiritually renewed.

Neil said...

One of my strongest memories of my trip to Paris was looking at Monet's water lily paintings in l'Orangerie and just being amazed at the blatent disregard for the "No Flash Photography" signs. The docents were no help at all. "Pas de flash," they would mutter in the most dispassionate voice possible, not moving out of their uncomfortable little chairs one bit.

David Stirling said...