Picasso–Multiple Images of the Master

Opening on June 11 and closing on October 9, the deYoung Museum in San Francisco continues to host an exhibition of more than 100 masterpieces of  Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) from Paris’s world-renowned Musée National Picasso. The Bay Area exhibition is made possible only because of the Musée’s temporary closing for extensive remodeling.  I have seen the collection in Paris, of which there are more than 5000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and collages, an almost overwhelming experience.   About two percent of that collection is now on view at the deYoung, demonstrating some but not all of the wide range of artistic styles and forms that Picasso mastered.  Missing are some of my personal favorites:  linocuts, woodcuts, and ceramics.  But the exhibit has much to offer.

The pieces, arranged chronologically, are presented in nine galleries covering every period of his career. Celestina (1904), from the artist’s Blue Period, is perhaps his most somber (certainly his most depressing) work:  a portrait of a one-eyed prostitute modeled after an actual madam in Barcelona.  The missing eye looks more like a dense cataract and the gender of the figure is ambiguous.  Other more familiar paintings and sculptures are displayed:  Portrait of Dora Maar (1937), six Surrealist bronze heads of the artist’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter; the bronze Goat (1950); the six life-size bronze Bathers (1956); and the late self-portrait The Matador (1970).   One painting that fascinated me the most, however, is less known:  Massacre in Korea (1951), inspired by Goya, is a painting protesting the US involvement in the Korean War.  It reminded me of Jose Orozco’s furious murals depicting the Spanish invasion of Mexico.  US military personnel are shown in Darth Vader-like helmets with the Korean people reminiscent in style and emotion of Orozco’s Mexican villagers.  His bronze sculptures of individual men and women standing in rows are haunting.  The famous “Head of a Bull”, a minimalist sculpture of a bicycle seat with handlebars, has been made a focal point in Gallery 7.

Not to be missed is the complimentary guide for the show.   Co-written by the Seattle Art Museum and the deYoung,  this brilliant analysis of the painted feelings of Picasso is a study of his  infatuation with each of his lovers.  We learn how each of Picasso’s lovers transformed his artful composition of the woman’s figure. His early Cubist years were with mistress Fernande Olivier, his surrealist period with lover Marie-Therese Walter, his political transformation during the Spanish Civil War inspired by Dora Maar and his last two decades of playful experimentation and ceramics were with Jacqueline Roque.

Each of his artistic periods shifted dramatically in accordance with the lover muse with whom he was enthralled.  I can now imagine the rejuvenation of his art–from periods of seriousness (Blue), voluptuousness (Rose, Expressionist, Cubist), political courage (Surrealism), and playfulness through the eyes of Picasso as lover.  Picasso always claimed his erotic life was the stimulus for his creativity and expressiveness.  “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”, is famously quoted but looking at Picasso’s portraits of his lovers tells all.

Go to http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/exhibitions/picasso-masterpieces-mus-e-national-picasso-paris for more information.  Three other San Francisco exhibits are also Picasso-related–“Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stores” at the Contemoporary Jewish Museum (closing September 6) www.thecjm.org,  “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde” at the San Francisco MOMA (closing September 6) www.sfmoma.org, “Picasso’s Ceramics” at the Legion of Honor in the Bowles Porcelain Gallery (closing December 1), www.legionofhonor.org.