Monday, February 2, 2009

Picasso et les Maîtres at the witching hour

The circumstances were extraordinary: we were at the Grand Palais at the witching hour and we were not alone! In fact, there were hundreds of other people waiting in the bitter cold to get a jostled glimpse of the Picasso exhibit.

At 2 am, our assigned ticket time, we were allowed into the building. By that point I was as glad to be in warmth as I was to be seeing the exhibit. I made my way upstairs among the crowd of others to see Picasso and the Masters.

There was much artistry to be admired: Picasso, the masters that inspired him, and the amazing curator who put everything together. The collection of tableaux assembled in the Grand Palais stole the show, more than any one painting or series. Museums from every corner of the world had loaned the exhibit their masterpieces to paint a full and vibrant picture of the masters that inspired Pablo Picasso, a master in his own right.

The exhibit featured quotes form Picasso at the entry of each room, introducing his musings on inspiration, artists and what it means to be one. The quotes were followed by an explanation of what the paintings in the room were trying to convey and what they showed about Picasso’s career. I especially enjoyed the room of self-portraiture, a genre I enjoy because of its intimacy. A self-portrait shares much more than the physical appearance of the artist; by seeing how the artist sees himself, the viewer sees his world view, his insecurities, his sources of pride, his hopes, his pain, his soul. Given the figurative nature of much of Picasso’s work, this particular part of the exhibit was especially enlightening when juxtaposed with the portraits of Poussin and Manet, among others.

The collection of paintings from the blue period was also remarkable. I didn’t know much about Picasso before my visit (and probably couldn’t tell you too much about him now), but I felt that I left with a good sense of the blue period. The works were incredibly emotive and expressive, aesthetically beautiful and philosophically beautiful. I could have looked at those works for hours.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good look at much of anything because there were too many people. I had to elbow my way to the front and then could only stay 10 seconds or so before I was elbowed away by some other ambitious viewer. It was not a comfortable experience. I was also swaying with fatigue as it was 3 in the morning and we had been in four cities that day: Ghent in the morning, Bruges for the day, Lille for the train station, and back to Paris to stay. Ample time, space, and energy were seriously lacking and thus hindered my ability to properly view the exhibit.

The last room of the exhibit focused on Picasso’s nudes. This comparison seemed particularly relevant given the fact that I am in the midst of learning about Ingres in my art history class, an artist whose works were prominently features in the exhibit. I enjoyed the featured quote of this room the most, in which Picasso describes that he wished to portray the body as it really and truly was, not just as it appeared. Although I found some of his works too graphic and almost lurid, keeping Picasso’s goal in mind helped me understand and see what he was trying to accomplish. Having Picasso’s own words preface the room of nudes made all the difference.

The artistry not only of the painters but also of the curators and directors of the exhibition is more impressive the more I think of it. I wish I could have had more time to soak in all that was in front of me. What was presented was incredible but the circumstances were not ideal and I feel disappointed that I could not view the exhibit comfortably. Nonetheless, the visit was a true experience. Not many people can see they have been at an art exhibit at 3 am. Also, given the record-breaking success of “Picasso et les Maitres,” I proudly feel that I am a part of history. When we left the exhibit at 3:30 am, snow was falling all around us, blanketing our hooded heads and the Champs-Elysées. While we waited for cabs, I felt truly happy and inspired not only by the artistry of the exhibit, but also by the artistry of nature which fell all around

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