Unsex Me Here, Pablo ; VISUAL ART ++ Picasso - Carmen Musee Picasso PARIS
Darwent, Charles, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The face seems familiar, likewise the mantilla. The woman on the screen is clearly Spanish, maybe at a bullfight. At any rate, she is wearing a veil, a comb and an arch expression, and she's smoking. She folds her lipsticked mouth into a moue, bats her eyelids, flicks a lighted match at the camera. Then it strikes you where you've seen this vamp before: that she is Pablo Picasso, and that he's dressed in the role of Carmen.
There may be more unlikely drag artistes than Picasso, though few spring easily to mind. Macho is a Spanish word meaning male or virile, and Picasso - cradle-snatching, bullfighting, eternally priapic Pablo - was the living embodiment of both. Yet here he is, not just in a veil but bridling and pouting, in a short film by Man Ray called La Garoupe (1937). The movie takes you aback, though by the time you reach it your ideas about Picasso may already have changed.
The film is the last work in a show called Picasso - Carmen, which traces the artist's interest in the titular cigar girl. In Madrid in 1898, long before he went to Paris, Picasso produced a sketch called Carmen. Its subject was to recur in his work, directly and indirectly, for the next 70 years, culminating in a series of illustrations to Merimee's novella made in the 1960s.
This seems an unlikely f ixation for a man who led his life like a character from Hemingway, and yet, as you walk through this show, Picasso's love for the gypsy seems inevitable. Most obviously, her story brings together the two stars in his firmament, women and bulls. Picasso's reclaiming of Carmen also has a national flavour. For Merimee and Bizet (and particularly for Picasso's hero, Manet), "Spanish" was a synonym for "exotic". Taking Carmen back from the French - repossessing her mantillas, her camp, her ineffably Spanish kitsch - counts as something in the way of justice for a Spaniard working in Paris.
More surprising is what this kitsch meant to Picasso. As I've said, he was the soul of machismo, and yet objects from his archive hint at something more equivocal. The show opens with Picasso's collection of postcards of toreadors and maja - portraits of Francisco Madrid, girlish in powder blue and sequins; of a dancer called "La Preciosilla", her gaze stronger than the toreador's, more manly. …