Pablo Picasso's The Kiss (Le baiser), Mas Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, 1969. Koons Collection; © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: David Heald.
NEW YORK - When the Guggenheim Museum’s latest blockbuster, Picasso Black and White, took up residence in its Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda in early October, the occasion marked the eighth major exhibition organised by Carmen Giménez devoted to the protean artist’s work. The museum’s Stephen and Nan Swid Curator of 20th Century Art since 2009, Giménez has organized critically acclaimed exhibitions on David Smith, Richard Serra, Alexander Calder and Cy Twombly. But it is with Picasso, who Giménez says “opened the 20th century to a new way of seeing,” that she has the deepest affinity. Her history with Picasso dates back more than a quarter of a century: in 1987 she organized The Century of Picasso for Madrid’s Reina Sofía Art Center, a museum she helped create, and in 2003 she curated Picasso’s Picassos at the Museo Picasso Málaga, of which she was the founding director. Giménez sat down with me at the Guggenheim to discuss the great Spanish painter and how he has intersected with her own distinguished career.
Lina Bertucci © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.
Is it possible for a curator to ever run out of things to say about Picasso?
No, I don’t think so. There are certainly many other shows I could do. But you have to have a good subject. If not, people are no longer willing to loan their works. But those who know me very well – museum curators, the family of Picasso and Picasso lovers – have been aware that I have had this idea for a long time. So that did help me very much in securing the works I wanted.
Most museum exhibitions are several years in the making. How long have you been thinking about Black and White?
I first had the idea in 1979, when the estate of Picasso presented at the Grand Palais the works from his personal collection; these would ultimately go to the Musée National Picasso in Paris. Because Picasso kept the things he loved for himself, I made so many discoveries in that exhibition. In addition to black-and-white paintings from all periods, collages and Cubist works, there was so much sculpture – he rarely exhibited his sculpture so it was not well known. And I saw a lot of monochrome going on.
Your relationship with his personal cache continued when you opened the Museo Picasso Málaga in 2003 with an inaugural show called Picasso’s Picasso.
That exhibition featured works that belonged to the family – much of it from his daughter-in-law Christine Ruiz-Picasso and her son, Bernard, who generously gave works so Picasso could have a museum in his hometown. And in one room I installed the black-and-white pieces and in another, the colour.
So you were rehearsing the installation of the Guggenheim show nearly a decade ago! How do the sculptures play into your black-and-white theme?
Picasso loved the plasters. In the 1930s he owned a very interesting château, Boisgeloup, where he worked long into the night in a studio lit by candlelight and gas lamps. And he loved to see those white plasters together in that light.
Picasso showed these works in 1932; it was the first time he had a big show in Paris, which he installed himself: on one end of the gallery was an iron statue called Man – it’s black, of course; he’s the colour of iron – and opposite that he placed another sculpture called Woman, and it’s painted white.
Pablo Picasso's Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica (Tête de cheval, étude pour Guernica) Grands-Augustins, Paris, May 2, 1937. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Bequest of the artist; © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: © Archivo fotográfico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
I see that you’ve included images of these works in the catalogue but they’re not in the show.
Yes. They came here for the Guggenheim’s sculpture show Picasso and the Age of Iron (1993), so I did not really want to ask for them again. But I have managed a beautiful group of sculptures, one of which for me is very symbolic. It’s the iron cast of Woman with a Vase (1933), which he made for the entrance to the Spanish Pavilion [of the Paris Exposition of 1937], with Guernica inside. This woman with a vase, she was a receiving woman at the entrance to the pavilion, and at the time she was cast in cement, because plaster was very delicate.
What is the story behind this version of the sculpture?
When Picasso died, his widow, Jacqueline, commissioned two casts: one guards his tomb at the Château Vauvenargues, in the South of France, and the other – this one – I had the honour of buying for the first Socialist government of Spain in 1987, when I was an advisor to the Minister of Culture, Mr Javier Solana.
The Reina Sofía, of which you were the founding general director of the National Center of Exhibitions in 1986, has loaned her to the Guggenheim. And I have placed this Woman with the Vase at the entrance to the exhibition. She’s once again going to be the one who receives people.
Beyond her obvious symbolic appeal, what is her physical presence like? She is very, very tall and very strange. She comes from Iberian sculpture, which Picasso discovered before African art. Iberian sculpture for him is extremely important in his work at the time.
I’m shocked – shocked! – that the exhibition doesn’t include Guernica, her longtime friend and neighbour, which is undoubtedly Picasso’s most famous black-and-white painting.
First I would never have tried (laughs). I don’t think I’m crazy. And, honestly, if I were to get the Guernica here, we wouldn’t need the rest of the exhibition! Anyway, you had the painting in New York for years [at MoMA] – in fact, I saw it for the first time here, and I must say I was very happy.
Were you involved in bringing it to the Reina Sofía?
No, Picasso gave it to the Prado, and I think he would be very happy to be in the Prado with Velásquez and Goya, where he belongs. It came to the Reina Sofía in 1992, after I had joined the Guggenheim full time. But the Reina Sofía without the Guernica would be very difficult, because you need to have roots, you know. You need to start that collection of modern art somewhere.
And what better place than Picasso? You’ve talked about how he’s the soul of modernity. Do you still think he’s maintained his relevance today? Oh, yes, yes, yes. For me, he’s the most important artist of the 20th century. Picasso brought everything to the table.
Pablo Picasso's Seated Woman in an Armchair (Dora) (Femme assise dans un fauteuil [Dora]), 1938. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel.
Just down Fifth Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum has a show on the continuing influence of Andy Warhol, that other titan of the 20th century. Do you think there’s an ideological battle between the School of Warhol and the School of Picasso or do they coexist peacefully?
Oh, I think they coexist. I don’t see battles. I think artists generally coexist. For instance, Picasso never had a battle with Matisse. He loved Matisse. And certainly Matisse highly respected him.
You helped bring the Guggenheim to Bilbao. It’s remarkable how the Frank Gehry–designed satellite continues to attract so many visitors, not all of them necessarily art lovers.
But that’s true in New York, too. Not only art lovers come to see the Frank Lloyd Wright building.
In terms of curating or installing shows, do you have a preference for Bilbao or New York?
Gehry’s galleries are much bigger and offer more flexibility. You know, I love Frank Lloyd Wright and the rotunda. And I think this show would not have been the same elsewhere. Here you see the show from the top on down; you see the full spectrum. Plus it’s a white museum!
Exactly — it’s white with a perfect rhythm of black bands. Which brings us back to the theme of your show: Why do you think this palette was so compelling to Picasso?
I think he really didn’t care about the colour. He cared about the form and the structure of the painting. He wanted to express himself the best way possible. I have started the show with Woman Ironing (1904), from our own collection. And although it’s from his Blue Period, it’s mostly grays; very monochromatic. And from his Rose Period, we have Man, Woman and Child (1906), and it, too, shows how Picasso really used very little colour.
In Françoise Gilot’s fantastic book My Life with Picasso, she recounts a conversation in which Picasso said, “If you take the blue or the red or the main colour out of a Matisse, the painting collapses. But if you take out one colour in my painting, the structure is still there.”
For him, colour was a distraction. He has the power to bring you into his field without using colour, because he’s a master drawer. The line is what’s powerful in his work.
I keep thinking about all his beautiful voluptuous curves, and then the curves of the Guggenheim and how they’ll play off each other. That said, do you think audiences are going to be surprised by the power of it. In this post-Technicolor age do they need to be fed a diet of bright colours, neon, butterflies?
I’m interested to see what the reaction will be. I don’t know myself, but what I am certain of is that they are going to see what a beautiful draughtsman Picasso was. He had the power to interest you without the colour. Of course, when he wanted to be, he was a magnificent colourist.
So if visitors to your show want a jolt of colour afterwards – a sweet dessert, so to speak – to what painting would you direct them? Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, at MoMA, which is one of the major paintings of the 20th century. That has colour, lovely colour.
Anthony Barzilay Freund is the Director of Fine Art at 1stdibs.com and is a contributing editor for Sotheby’s at Auction.
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