Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

16
PATERNITY AND CLASSICISM
1920-1923

n Paris the year 1920 began with the first big Dada manifestation introducing Littérature, the group founded by Breton, Aragon, and Soupault. They linked themselves to older members of Picasso's circle like Max Jacob, André Salmon, and Cocteau. Picasso himself, however, was absent from the exhibition of paintings, which included Léger, Gris, and De Chirico. As a final touch, Picabia showed an abstract work with inscriptions like High, Low, and Fragile in enormous red letters, running from top to bottom. It was also inscribed with the obscene pun L.H.O.Q., which was proposed at the same time for the Duchamp's mustachioed Joconda. This last work, however, was not shown until 1930, as part of the exhibition "la Peinture au défi" (Painting in Defiance). 1

The tumult of the occasion was augmented by Breton's erasing of another Picabia work done on a blackboard. Picasso must have seen this anti-art as a parody, a rehash of his papiers collés and canvases of 1914, in which already he had reduced a bottle of Bass (ale) to Bas (low). He considered Picabia, a Catalan somewhat older than himself, to be a painter without personality, someone, he said, who was always trying to make more of himself because he didn't have the skill to make enough. More than ever, as he saw it, Cubism was not a method of destruction with a view to making a clean sweep but, on the contrary, a method of construction.

This was put to the test by his work on Pulcinella, which delighted him, despite some stormy discussions with Diaghilev over his first conception of the ballet, which Diaghilev thought excessively modernized the characters. In his dealings with others, Diaghilev was authoritarian; but, when all was said and done, Picasso found him stimulating, and the final version of the set attains a kind of Cubist perfection, which everyone in the company admired. Picasso had prepared for the job with still lifes of a guitar on a table, or sideboard, which are masterpieces. With the impetus of those works, he produced some dazzling variations when he got to the costumes in April: two-dimensional gouaches of Pierrot, Harlequin, and Pulcinella engaged in daily life. One sees them reading le Populaire (the socialist daily of moderates like Leon Blum), sitting at a table on a café

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