Pablo Picasso doesn’t need an introduction. The myth of Picasso as the controlling artist-genius is stubborn, but as Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark Art Institute points out, “Picasso did not create in a vacuum.” Picasso: Encounters examines the creative collaborations that fueled and strengthened Picasso’s work. At the same time, the show provides insight into Picasso’s interest in large-scale printmaking, which served as both an outlet for experimentation and collaboration.
“This exhibition gives us a different look at Picasso and provides the opportunity to study the remarkable achievements he accomplished as he worked with different printmakers,” says Olivier Meslay, Felda and Dena Hardymon, director of the Clark. “Their craftsmanship and his artistry forged new paths that clearly expanded Picasso’s view and broadened his horizons.”
The exhibition presents 35 prints from private and public collections and three paintings, including Self-Portrait (1901) and Portrait of Dora Maar (1937), which are both on loan from the Musee national Picasso-Paris. “Looking at the artist’s work through the lens of collaboration allows us to consider Picasso from a fresh perspective,” Clarke says. In setting out to organize the exhibition, Clarke aimed to debunk the myth around Picasso. “When we give agency to those around him – his supporters, dealers, publishers, children, and lovers – it makes his creative enterprise even more complex, layered, and alive,” she says. Expertly curated by Clarke, the exhibition cracks open the myth just enough to peek inside to examine the complexities of Picasso’s collaborations.
Picasso’s iconic Self-Portrait greets you at the entrance to the gallery. Up close, it’s stunning. The artist’s glare, his sunken cheeks and sharp beard, the dark blues of his coat against the mossy teal background – they all elicit an emotional response. The work was created during Picasso’s famed Blue Period, and the study of blue that he demonstrates in the painting is masterful. That said, the exhibition really begins to come into focus with the next piece, The Frugal Repast, which has been in the Clark’s permanent collection since 1962. Originally printed in 1904, during the Blue Period, it was Picasso’s first attempt at large-scale printmaking. Printed by the artist Eugene Delatre, the dramatic image of bohemians (perhaps circus performers) is moody, dark. Clarke points out that “Delatre’s hand is evident in this printing in the inky areas of tone on the plate,” which didn’t please Picasso. When Picasso’s dealer Ambroise Vollard re-issued the print several years later, it was printed by Vollard’s main printer (Louis Fort).
Clarke always wanted to construct a show around the work, but she jokes, “it had no friends to play with.” The idea of investigating Picasso’s collaborations with printers sprang from The Frugal Repast and its backstory.
Whether it’s the primitive woodcut Bust of a Young Woman (Fernande Olivier) or the Cubist print Still-Life with Bottle of Marc, there’s a lot to digest in the first gallery of the exhibition. The viewer gets a glimpse of Picasso’s collaborations, experimentations, and creative trajectory. When compared with painting, which was a solitary endeavor, printmaking involved creative collaboration with printers and publishers. Clarke reminds us that Picasso and Vollard used printmaking to build a greater audience and spread Picasso’s name.
The side-by-side display of Visage (Face of Marie-Therese), which is a portrait-like print of his mistress, and the drypoint Portrait of Olga in a Fur Collar, which depicts Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova, announces a new thread in the exhibition – one that involves the explosive terrain of Picasso’s mistresses, wives, and personal relationships. It’s no surprise that Picasso injects his affairs into his art, but the exhibition does a wonderful job building this narrative thread about his muses and their impact. It continues with Marie-Therese and Olga’s likeness in Large Bullfight, with Female Bullfighter, and Marie-Therese’s appearance in Minotauromachia. With the 1930s, Picasso begins to delve into bullfighting, mythology, and male-oriented depictions of surrealist scenes. The imagery is potent, and it reveals how Picasso mingled mythological imagery with his personal travails (however self-made they may have been).
One of the most profound sections of Picasso: Encounters concerns the image of the weeping woman. In the late 1930s, on the heels of Guernica, Picasso creates a series of prints depicting a woman in utter terror. A version of the weeping woman with a dead baby in her arms is one of the dominant images in Guernica itself, but the prints on display in Encounters focus on the woman’s contorted face. These works were printed by Roger Lacouriere, another collaborator who printed small editions of fifteen impressions for Picasso. Here we see both Weeping Woman, I in two different states, side-by-side. Interestingly, these large-scale prints hang next to the painting Portrait of Dora Maar. Maar, a Surrealist photographer, became the new muse to inhabit Picasso’s work. The painting’s lush colors and provocative angles are striking, but its juxtaposition to the weeping woman is curious. At least at first glance. When you spend a moment with both, you realize that the weeping woman is a grotesque version of Maar. The similarly-styled knife-like fingers and the full hair give that impression at the very least.
In the exhibition catalogue essay, Clarke points to Picasso’s reliance on Marie-Therese Walter, Olga Khokhlova, Dora Maar, Franciose Gilot, Jacqueline Roque, and others. “Although the Picasso literature tends to interpret his various muses as passive, objectified, even abused, the fact is that he needed them. Picasso needed his wives, partners, and mistresses as inspiration for his art,” she writes. “Why not look at their essential role in his life as one of collaboration instead of as just master/servant…This combination of victim and agent may seem antithetical, but human relations are complex.” Whether you agree with that statement or not, casting Picasso’s personal relations as collaborators instead of as victims chips away at that myth of Picasso as the solitary artist-genius.
The final gallery is dedicated to Picasso’s dialogues with Old Masters and other artists. Picasso’s interpretations of works by Lucas Cranach, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Eugene Delacroix provide yet another thread of creative collaboration. Picasso’s Ecce Homo, after Rembrandt, Portrait of a Young Girl, after Cranach the Younger, II (pictured) and Luncheon on the Grass, after Manet are interesting in their execution and their dialogue with the past, but truthfully, they are not quite as compelling as the artist’s collaborations with earlier printers and his personal relationships. That said, spending some time with his linoleum cut prints is worthwhile.
Was creative collaboration at the heart of Picasso’s printmaking work? The exhibition is convincing. Even for those with a deep knowledge of Picasso’s life and work, the exhibition offers something new. Clarke herself was “surprised by the level of collaboration Picasso engaged in when working with these printers. He really enjoyed the give and take.” She was also struck by the revelation that “Picasso never stopped experimenting. He always wanted to push himself and, in turn, be pushed by others.”
Picasso: Encounters is a must-see for the summer art-seeker or the casual museum-goer. Make a point to go explore the new exhibition at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. It runs through August 27.
Also at the Clark
On view through September 4, Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design, which examines Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema most successful and distinctive artistic endeavors – the design of a music room for the New York mansion of financier, collector, and philanthropist Henry Gurdon Marquand. The exhibition, which was 10 years in the making, reunites 12 of the 19 pieces from the original furniture suite, along with paintings, ceramic, textiles, and sculpture from the room for the first time since Marquand’s estate was auctioned in 1903. The Clark’s ornately decorated Steinway piano, acquired in 1997, is the centerpiece of the exhibition.
“Exhibition co-curators Kathleen Morris and Alexis Goodin have brought back to life one of the great interiors of Gilded Age New York,” said Meslay. “We look forward to giving our visitors the experience of stepping back in time to marvel at one of the most extraordinary artistic collaborations of the late nineteenth century.”
As always, the Clark’s permanent collection is worth revisiting every summer. If you haven’t seen the 42,600 square-foot Clark Center designed by Tadao Ando or hiked up Stone Hill, now’s the time. Visit www.clarkart.edu for more information on hours, admissions, and events.