Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Picasso et les Maîtres

I visited the exhibition of “Picasso et les Maîtres,” at the Grand Palais on the Champs Elysées at 2:00 am on Monday, February 2, 2009. Somehow, late Sunday night, hundreds upon hundreds of people like me (and also not at all like me) lined up to see a show of Picasso’s works alongside those of his contemporaries and influences. Since I had reserved a ticket, I didn’t have to wait in the line, but it was quite fascinating to see so many people (mostly of the 20-40 year old group, but some were older) out so late on a Sunday, let alone for an art exhibition. It is truly a cultural spectacle.

I’ve never formally studied art, but my parents like art so I’ve been to a lot of museums and I’m fairly familiar with a lot of the famous artists at the exhibition, including Picasso, Cezanne, El Greco, Renoir, etc. I don’t claim to be an expert (or even knowledgeable) by any means, but I will do my best to make pertinent comments on my observations from Sunday night.

The first thing that I noticed was the breadth of work that the expo covered. There were dozens of artists in multiple mediums, but it was all related back to the focal point—that is, Picasso. The juxtaposition of classical (or non-cubist) artists with Picasso’s works showed clear relations between them, in subject matter, color schemes, or other aspects of the paintings. As Midori put it, it was a “curatorial masterpiece.” I was particularly impressed by the comparison of some of Picasso’s later (and extremely cubist) works with those of sixteenth century artists, and the clear relation between them, such as Picasso’s and Diego Velásquez’s Las Meninas (Picasso did a series of them in a very short period of time). It’s very impressive how many variations he created on the same piece; all are similar, but with very different results. (This is Velàsquez's Las Meninas and these are Picasso's.)

The show was divided into several segments with different focuses in each one. Among them were his still-lifes, nudes, and portraits. I was particularly interested in some of his still-lifes, which were very well done in a traditional sense, but with the cubist sense of perspective made them particularly interesting, especially in my groggy 3:00 am consciousness. It seems that some of his later pieces lack attention to detail, with messy brush strokes and large blocks of color, but I think the effect makes much more sense in the context of the abstract perception of space and bodies. It isn’t the detail that matters in that case, but the representation of the altered perception in a way that the viewer can relate to the idea of the artist.

The other part of the exposition that popped out at me was the crowd. It was an exceedingly diverse group of people. I was surprised to see so many people, so late at night. Another surprising aspect of the crowd was how international it was. I heard several other Americans, as well as some Brits and Spaniards. There was also a woman with a sleeping baby strapped to her chest. I realize that it’s an incredible exhibit and all, but I don’t understand why so many people would choose to go at 2:00 am. If they thought it was going to be less crowded, they were wrong.

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