Picasso and Picabia

Above: On left is Picasso’s Marie-Therese accoudee, copyright 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso and Artists Rights Society, via WikiArts; On right is Picabia’s Portrait of an Artist, photograph by the author. Edited in Trigraphy and AdobeSpark.

Two wonderful shows on now that you should see: Picasso’s Picassos at Gagosian Madison and Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction at the Museum of Modern Art. Picasso and Picabia knew each other personally, but artistically they shared a tone of natural playfulness, strong ability in any medium, and stylistic eclecticism. Below is a short breakdown of the current presentations.

Picasso

Picasso’s Picassos comprises a selection of paintings and a single sculpture (La femme enceinte, or The Pregnant Woman– see this version) from the collection of Maya Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter with famous muse Marie-Therese Walter. At two rooms it is quite palatable, exactly the kind of exhibit easy to pop in and out of while being still being worth attending. The works are mostly small in scale but richly hued, featuring compelling Cubist structures with tangled webs of body parts and physiognomy. They evidence his masterful weaving together of unusual colors and brushstrokes to create whole forms, and the resulting gestalt reminds viewers of why Picasso is so revered. The pieces are primarily portraits; subjects might be a young Maya, Marie-Therese, or even a Musketeer. It is an especially perfect show for someone who will appreciate Picasso’s content without needing background (as in most galleries, there is no wall text, only an explanatory sheet). The experience is a concise one, but quite enjoyable at that.

Through February 18th.

Picabia

The Francis Picabia survey boasts being the first of its kind in the U.S. to chart the entire career of the eponymous artist, who flirted with Impressionism, Pointillism, and Surrealism, became an important player in Dada, and worked both figuratively and abstractly, in addition to his graphic design endeavors. Picabia has an incredible range, having experimented with collage, mechanical diagrams, unusual painting techniques (such as building multi-layer transparencies), photorealism, film, carpets, Rousseau-like Primitivism, camp, Op-Art, and so on. Involved in the international art scene from 1903 through his death in 1953 (based everywhere from Paris to Cuba, New York, or Zurich), Picabia interacted with cultural icons such as Andre Breton, Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Stein, and was arguably one himself. The MoMA mounting is an excellent spotlight on the multitalented artist in that it seems to cover much ground, although for a better sense of its comprehension (described by one publication as monstrous), avoid going at midday when the museum tends to be crowded and therein highly chaotic. Yet despite Picabia’s diversity of style, one thing to note is that the MoMA takes a keen interest in Dadaists, which comes as no surprise in light of its core concentration on the modern and postmodern eras. The institution staged an investigation into the movement last year with Dadaglobe Reconstructed, a tribute to Dada founder Tristan Tzara‘s failed attempt to assemble a massive catalogue of sorts with contributions from affiliates around the world. I have no idea whether this earlier coverage helped inspire the selection of Picabia for a 2016-2017 retrospective (a problematic thesis, given that he denounced Dada in 1921), but I’d recommend the latter just the same.

Through March 19th.

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