In "Father of the Bride II," George Banks (alias Steve Martin)
ricochets from the devastation of imminent grandfatherhood to the
even more cataclysmic prospect of second-wind fatherhood.
He is sure he is too young for the first ... and far too old for
the second. To reassure him that older fathers are OK, someone
(Mrs. Banks, if I recall) cites Picasso.
"But," sputters Banks, "Picasso was an artist. He could do
whatever he liked!" (or words to that effect).
The fascinating exhibition just opened at New York's Museum of
Modern Art - "Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and
Transformation" - suggests Banks was quite right: Pablo Picasso did
whatever he liked, in his art and in his life.
On one level this (mainly) chronological selection of Picassos
that relate variously to portraiture offers an astonishing catalog
of his sexual relationships.
It presents a procession of the women in his long life (1881 -
1973). As William Rubin, curator of the show and editor of the book
published with it, writes: "We have chosen to emphasize the
multiple portrayals of persons central to his life...."
Women furnished the impulse
Women (or perhaps more generically, Woman) can indeed be called
central to his life. There were friends, too, of course: writer
Gertrude Stein, art dealer Ambroise Vollard, writer-dealer
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, poet-critic Guillaume Apollinaire, writer
Max Jacob, and poet Paul luard. There were Picasso's mother and
father. And there were his children.
And then there was himself. One gallery is filled with
Many works that do not relate obviously to the show's theme have
been omitted. So have many that do - portrait-sculptures for
instance. But what is shown more than confirms the overwhelming
impression that not only was the great Spaniard obsessively
attracted to women, but that they were the very impulse of his art.
Other exhibitions in recent years have concentrated on specific
aspects of Picasso's oeuvre: still-life, Cubism, landscape, late
works, sculpture, sketchbooks, photographs, and so forth, not to
mention the full-scale retrospective Rubin organized at the museum
in 1980. But this portraiture exhibition seems to go persuasively
to the heart of the artist.
Pierre Daix, author of some catalogues raisonnes, in 1966 and
1979, of Picasso's work, writes: "For Picasso ... the face was the
ultimate test of the validity of pictorial experimentation, and the
portrait would become the ultimate stake." Daix had in mind a
comparison of Picasso with Georges Braque. Braque and Picasso
together (like "mountaineers roped together") invented Cubism.
Braque's lack of interest in portrait painting helps to explain how
it was that almost the only time Picasso's work veered radically
away from the human figure and face as subject or object, was when
Cubism was at its most intense - and most relatively "abstract."
But Picasso was never an abstract artist. And after Cubism he
recovered, as it were, faces and figures in his art. He did not,
however, paint them in the same way as he had before Cubism,
however "realistic" they might (sometimes) seem.
This exhibition is ground-breaking. Many of Picasso's paintings
drastically reconstitute faces and figures, subjecting them to his
own highly personal pressures and needs. So the convention of
"likeness" may be left far behind. Identifying which woman a given
painting connects with has required some degree of analysis. But
the labels to the paintings, as well as their sectional arrangement
in this show, now make clear whether they are "of" Fernande, or
Marie-Therese, or Dora, or Olga, or Francoise, or Jacqueline - to
name a few. Picasso was married only twice in his life - to Olga
and Jacqueline. But most of the other women were clearly much more
than mere models.
This show makes clear that the roots of primitivism in modern
art - the influence of Iberian primitive sculpture, or African art
- were crucial in enabling Picasso to shift the ground underneath
the traditions of portraiture. …