Modern Spanish art near the Alps. Small Swiss museum exhibits bold blend of Picasso, Mir'o, Dali

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It has been argued that Picasso is the most important artist of the 20th century. So his paintings quite rightly dominate ``Treasures from Barcelona,'' an exhibit that recently opened here at The Hermitage Foundation. The Hermitage is a delightful gem of a museum, a two-story building of yellow and white stucco that sits in the middle of a spacious garden shaded by huge maple trees. From the windows of this late-19th-century residence one can not only look down the hill to the Gothic church spires that have dominated the city's skyline since the 12th century, but glance across Lake Geneva and see the towering, snow-capped Alps that rise from its southern shore.

``Treasures of Barcelona: Picasso, Mir'o, Dal'i and Their Times'' is only the second such effort by the Hermitage Foundation, which was established in 1984. The show is made up of 180 paintings, watercolors, drawings and pieces of sculpture. The works on display have been located on three floors, each of which has theme: ``The Dawn of the XXth Century,'' ``The Time of The Avant-Garde,'' and ``The Three Greats After the War.'' In addition to works of Picasso, Mir'o, and Dali, the exhibit includes paintings and sculptures by Cosas, Canals, Nonell, Gargallo, Gonz'alez, Manolo, and Ricart. Many of the items have been loaned by the Museum of Modern Art and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Mir'o Foundation, the Museo Dal'i of Figueres, or are on loan from private collections, including those of King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and Salvador Dali himself. Picasso

Some 38 of Picasso's works are on display. These range chronologically from his youthful, perceptive self-portrait painted when he was 16, to the pseudo-Cubist ``The Painter'' of 1967, created when the artist was almost 90.

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The scope Picasso's oeuvre is so great that we tend to pigeonhole his works into periods and labels without ever realizing that there might be a common thread running through all of them - that one work (even if in a different style) might have evolved out of one from an earlier period. Fortunately the show's curator, Fran,cois Daulte, has made it possible for us to view paintings from these different periods side by side, separated only by the time frames of the three thematic divisions.

As a result of this arrangement, we can see that Picasso's is an essentially sensual reaction to his subjects. He responded to his work through his heart, hands, and eyes, rather than through rational abstractions. Though some of his works show his keen interest in textures and surfaces, they still reveal his extraordinary visual sense, his own personal way of seeing. And although many of his works are abstracted, none is totally abstract. All are variations of what he saw.

From such works on display as his ``Portrait de Jaume Sabart`es `a la Collerette et au Chapeau'' of 1939, it is also apparent that the so-called ``hidden'' symbols all have their meaning, a personal reaction to people, events, and problems of the time.

``What do you think an artist is,'' Picasso once asked in 1945, ``an imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he's a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he's a poet, or even if he is a boxer, just his muscles? On the contrary, he's at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heart-rending, fiery, or happy events, to which he responds in every way.''

One has only to stand for a few moments in front of a work such as his ``Blanquita Suarez'' (an operetta and variety theater singer of Barcelona) of 1917 to understand the meaning of what he wrote. Mir'o and Dali

Mir'o's early canvases show a fascination with Spain and things Spanish. Two wonderful early works, both from 1917, show a style that Mir'o termed ``fauvism Catalan'' - ``L'Ermitage de Sant Joan d'Horta'' and ``Prades, Les Porrides,'' in which there are large splotches of ocher, red, blue, and violet. By the time of his ``Peinture'' of 1925, we see emerging the Mir'o we know so well, his highly personal style characterized by evocative visual fantasy and humor, all expressed in a free and often calligraphic manner: In this painting we see three birds (or is it two birds and a paint brush? Or could it be three paint brushes?) floating through the beige-brown sky, which is balanced with a circle and two crossed lines.

One of the most interesting parts of the show is the display of Mir'o's bronze statues of 1968. These are clever, sometimes coy, semi-abstract figures that pique our fancy and fuel our imagination. Their titles range from two different statues simply called ``T^etes'' to a dour little man called ``Personnage,'' and a statue of childlike innocence labeled ``Personnage et Oiseau.''

There are several major canvases by Dali on display, evidences of his much publicized surrealist style - a style originally inspired by his interest in Mir'o's work, but later evolved electically from the styles of several different painters. His large oil painting ``The Cosmic Athlete'' of 1960 dominates the room in which it is hung. In contrast to ``The Cosmic Athletes'' of 1943, which is displayed on an adjoining wall, the later work is less definite in outline, the abstractions less realistic, almost as though his surrealism was tilting toward impressionism.

The most interesting of the Dali works now at the Hermitage is the complete collection of original drawings for ``The Secret Life of Salvador Dali,'' which was published in 1979 in Paris. Seen in their entirety for the first time, these drawings date from the early years of World War II, when the 37-year-old artist moved for seven months to Hampton, Virginia, to write his autobiography. The drawings are peppered with remarks written on them in English by Dali at the time of their creation, many reflecting his fascination with self-induced hallucinations and free association. An outstanding beginning

If this museum's future shows approach such important subjects as the current one, and if they are put together with as much skill, care, and accuracy as this is, the Hermitage Foundation of Lausanne is a name to remember when it comes to the world of art.

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