I’m heading to the Picasso show at the Metropolitan Museum today because, as Howard Halle suggests, even the bad Picassos are pretty damn good. Reputation and auction prices aside, Picasso was a phenomenally inventive painter whose brushwork and unfailing certainty always amaze me. Here’s a quick roundup of some reviews.
Holland Cotter: Out of the blue in 1947 Gertrude Stein got the ball rolling when she gave the museum its first Picasso, the portrait he had painted of her in Paris between 1905 and 1906. What arrived thereafter, again largely as gifts, tended to be conservative. While the Museum of Modern Art was wolfing down audacious helpings of Cubism, the Met was content with a tasting menu of early Blue Period, Rose Period and neo-Classical fare. But at least it got good stuff in these areas. So the show, arranged chronologically, begins with some flair. It also introduces the basic metabolism of the career that would follow: tame high polish, followed by brain-rattling innovation, followed by a retreat to safety before the next revolution.
Howard Halle: Even meh Picasso is better than a lot of the stuff out there. And oddly, the thinness of quality here—especially the paucity of key works from the crucial Cubist phase—provides a kind of Picasso for Dummies clarity to his career, revealing an artist whose true place in 20th-century art has been obscured by his protean achievement and outsize personality. The Met milks both, especially the latter, beginning with a series of blown-up photos of Picasso at the entrance, self-portraits taken in his studio around 1916. While the flower of Europe’s young men were being slaughtered in the trenches, we see Picasso trying out various self-mythologizing guises: as a shirtless sexy beast; in a street tough’s outfit; and in a suit, showing that he cleaned up good. In almost all of them, he gazes at us with eyes set in his head like black coals of predation. If this guy wanted to fuck you, he could.
New Yorker Goings on About Town: This huge show suggests, at first blush, the second hour of a yard sale: the cool stuff is gone, leaving the jelly-jar glassware. The Met came late to the greatest modern artist and has collected him helter-skelter, mainly via bulk bequests. Some strong works from the blue and pink periods and the thirties bracket a lacuna of Cubism. There are acres of prints. But look again. All three hundred items are Picassos. Even at his least motivated, he could contrive something acute or amusing—or, anyway, peculiar. Here, curiosities abound. One point of controversy: did young Picasso paint the Met’s woozy “Erotic Scene” (from 1902 or 1903), starring himself and a downright-blue nude? It seems good enough that if he didn’t we would surely know who did.
“Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” curated by Gary Tinterow and Susan Alyson Stein. Metorpolitan Museum, New York, NY. Through August 1, 2010.
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