April 17, 2009

Picasso: "Unless your picture goes wrong, it will be no good"

In the NY Times Roberta Smith writes that the show of late Picasso paintings at Gagosian proves that, in the main, Picasso only got better. "That’s the take-away from the staggering exhibition of Picasso’s late paintings and prints at the Gagosian Gallery. One of the best shows to be seen in New York since the turn of the century, it proves that contrary to decades of received opinion, Picasso didn’t skitter irretrievably into an abyss of kitsch, incoherence or irrelevance after this or that high-water mark....This is not the first big exhibition of late Picasso. But it may come at an unusually receptive time, when art is wide open, and the understanding of what it takes to be an artist has gotten a bit fuzzy around the edges. Or perhaps this show represents an unusually rigorous sampling of the last decade, having been chosen by John Richardson, Picasso’s formidable biographer, and superbly installed by him in the elegant, austere, sky-lighted galleries in Gagosian’s West 21st Street space in Chelsea.

"It makes as much sense to call it deconstructionist as Expressionist. The images disintegrate and recombine as you look, keeping every particle of paint and every scintilla of gesture in view while often cracking wise. In one of the show’s most haunting images, the terrified, seemingly flayed face of a matador is rendered in offhand smearings of lavender. The bullfighter may be looking at death; the surface laughs in its face. In his catalog essay Mr. Richardson writes that Picasso said that technique was important, 'on condition that one has so much ... that it completely ceases to exist.' But according to a short film playing in a small side gallery, Picasso also said that 'unless your picture goes wrong, it will be no good....'

"Anything this charged and unforgettable is bound to nourish anyone who sees it, but especially artists, regardless of affiliations of style or medium. It reveals one of their greatest going all out, providing a breathtaking reminder that art can be anything an artist wants it to be, as long as it is driven by inner necessity, ruthless self-scrutiny and a determination to make every attempt not to repeat the past. In the end, such inoculations are the only real protection against the vicissitudes of opinion. Art that successfully internalizes them will in all likelihood come to be seen as part of its own time and retain a vigor that is capable of inspiring the art of the future. That is the feat of Picasso’s extraordinary final offerings."

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