Picasso shows some fresh and unfamiliar faces
Stockholm — Another Picasso exhibition? Yes, but this one is different - at least to Olle Granath, its organizer and director of the Moderna Museet here. For a start, he says, ``it's the first really large-size retrospective of Picasso's work in Sweden.''
``Large size'' it certainly is - an inspection of every period and preoccupation of the Spanish artist, who died in 1973. It moves through his early Lautrec-like work, his blue and rose periods, all the phases of Cubism, his 1920s classicism, his Surrealist-influenced work in the 1930s, and so on. Throughout decades of work, Pablo Picasso explores his subjects - bullfighting, war, women, the work of other artists ancient and modern, the fascinating relationship of artist to model, still life, and even landscape - with an endless inventiveness.
It's basically a two-part show, with paintings in one area and drawings and prints in another. Sculpture is not ignored either, and a gallery of photographs, particularly of Picasso's late ``Jacqueline period,'' presents a rather happier view of that time than biographers suggest.
A long, wide corridor-gallery containing his late works effectively dramatizes the expressive flowering of color and paint in his last 20 years, starting with a burst of freedom experienced in the early 1950s after that other star of modern art in Paris, Henri Matisse, had died. It's difficult to decide if this freedom to absorb and re-create Matissian modes is a late tribute from an admirer, or a kind of artistic greed to eat up a rival. What is strange, perhaps, is the restraint that Picasso - generally cavalier as a pilferer of ideas from other artists - apparently felt while Matisse lived.
The show is also different, perhaps unavoidably so, because it doesn't include the obvious masterpieces like ``Guernica,'' ``Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,'' or ``The Three Dancers.'' Instead, there is a host of less known, and less frequently reproduced, works from each period. The result is a stimulatingly fresh view of Picasso, which provides something of a revelation, as Mr. Granath puts it, of ``the way he worked and in what quantity he worked without selling out his quality.''
The other masterpieces
But Granath won't concede that this is a show ``without masterpieces.''
``There are several masterpieces in the show,'' he says. ```The Accordianist' from the Guggenheim Museum, ... the `Guitar' [a Cubist wall-sculpture in sheet metal] from New York's Museum of Modern Art. We have the two marvelous still lifes from the second half of the '20s [from Basel and Madrid]. ...'' And he points out that Stockholm itself owns a dozen Picassos that are far from minor. In fact, the show has been designed to some extent around its collection, which includes a fine classical figure, ``La Source'' (the show has borrowed the full-scale preparatory drawing for it), as well as one of the earliest, most incisive ``papiers coll'es'' of 1912-13, ``Siphon, Glass, Newspaper and Violin.''
Scandinavia generally has not been backward in collecting Picassos, and the visitor seems continually to encounter works of fresh power and unfamiliarity lent from G"oteborg or Bergen or Oslo. Many works are from private collections.
One of the triumphs of the show is its display for the first time in half a century of a large, though possibly unfinished, key work dated 1904. Called ``Pierrette's Wedding,'' it is a ``blue'' picture, almost Rembrandtesque in its shadowy array of figures grouped at a table. It hovers on the edge of the softer, more sentimental atmosphere of the ``rose period,'' when the etiolated poor who inhabited Picasso's imagination became for a while gentle and wistful, and less morbid.
``[The painting] is interesting,'' comments director Granath, ``because it contains a whole gallery of figures which are to be frequent guests in Picasso's paintings during the following years.''
The fat man in the top hat reappears in an etching as Herod watching Salome dancing. The Harlequin actually refers back at least as far as blue-period figures in 1901, and often reappears as an alter ego for the artist throughout Picasso's later art. The ``absinthe-drinking couple'' on the left really comes from earlier, blue-period pictures and refers even further back to a preoccupation with D'egas and Manet. The ``slender woman you see from the back,'' with the deep shadow cast by her shoulder blade, is an often-repeated and varied motif in both blue- and rose-period paintings.
The show is arranged chronologically. One of the most intriguing aspects of this very open gallery space - you can take in a large part of the exhibition at one sweeping glance - is that the last works hang only a few meters from the earliest. So one of Picasso's late 1960s variations on the ``Venus and Cupid'' paintings of Luther Cranach the Elder (also being given an exhibition in Stockholm) can be seen at the same time as his Barcelona paintings of about 70 years earlier.
The metamorphoses that Picasso's art underwent in those seven decades is extraordinary, of course, and Granath points to the ``impatience'' of this very late picture, so ``tactless - respectless towards woman, respectless towards art history. ... It shows the enormous amount of liberty Picasso allowed himself to take the older he grew and the less he felt the taboos in life and in art.''
And yet there, across the gallery, is a 1901 self-portrait of Picasso in a top hat, with a backing group of blowsy, dissolute street women. It suggests that he had never felt respectability to be more than a fancy-dress fa,cade for an artist.
At Moderna Museet through Jan. 8.