Monday, February 2, 2009

Picasso , the Grand Master

When I first arrived in Paris, my host family told me about the Picasso exposition, “Picasso and his Masters “. Held only once a year in Paris, it is the most comprehensive exhibition on Picasso, split between three locations, the Grande Palais, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay (all locations that had significance during Picasso’s lifetime). Not only does it exhibit his life’s works, it also endeavors to bring together, side by side, the pieces of art of his « masters », those that influenced him the most during his career.

Prior to viewing this exhibition, the only exposure that I had to Picasso was from a pin depicting “the Owl”, which my mom gave to me as a gift when I was 8 years old. Given that I know very little about art and art history in general, I took this as an opportunity to judge the famous Picasso for myself.

I had prepared myself in advance for the long line to enter the exhibit. As I came into view of the Grand Palais, the line stretched all the way out the doors, and curved around the courtyard. A clarinet player was serenading us with his music. I still marvel at how he managed to play for so long without losing his tuning in the cold air! Despite the sign that said "De ce point, l’attend est approximament 3hrs" (from this point on, the wait will be 3 hours), I decided to stick it out. Although my wait only ended up being slightly over an hour, it gave me plenty of time to observe the people in line with me; everyone from young children holding their parents’ hands, to older women dressed to the “T” in their (real) full length fur jackets and teenagers chatting animatedly in the line. The sheer number and range of the types of people that take pride and have a genuine interest in learning about the arts in Paris is so incredible, not a sight that I am used to seeing back home.

The exhibit itself was out of the ordinary. It was intriguing to be able to walk through each gallery and observe Picasso’s style drastically change, especially when brought into the context of what was occurring historically and politically at the time. Even more fascinating was the fact that I could look at Picasso’s original, and right next to it, see the work of Ingres or Rembrandt that inspired it.

I was struck most by how diverse Picasso’s artwork is, how he can utilize varying styles so effectively. As a student of art, Picasso would perform his “academic study” by sketching ancient roman statues using graphite. His interpretation of the artwork added a new dimension as his use of scale, drawing the statue’s face from a close angle, pulled me into a “living” world. The shading he employed in the background, his use of shadow and light added a more ominous tone to some sketches, while for others, presented the statue he was drawing with an angelic quality.

While Picasso had many “eras”, the painting of portraits, nudes, still lifes, his black series, historical renderings, one of my favorite pieces of his art is “Man with a Guitar”. The segmentation of the painting distorts the picture enough to illustrate the complexity of the subject of the painting, but not so much that it takes away from the ability to distinguish the greater picture as a whole. The harsh lines and mismatched contours, combined with the subtle changes in color, add depth and give the impression that this particular piece of art is more than the sum of its parts. A sense of mystery surrounds the painting, and with each look, a new level of lucidity is established for the viewer as different components become apparent. The first time I looked at this painting, I was able to discern the broken figure of the man and his guitar. Upon the second glance, the wide, sweeping brushstrokes made an impression.

After reading more about Picasso online, I’ve realized that his art has so much significance and depth in terms of his stylistic choices, and yet, his “Infante Marguerite” does not appeal to me in any way. The lack of color-blending, the dissymmetry, the simplicity of the geometric shapes, these all make it seem as though any child could paint in a similar manner given a variety of paints and brushes. While art enthusiasts may find this statement appalling, neither do I feel connected to this painting, nor does it evoke any strong emotions. Especially when looking at it along side Velazquez’s rendition, the piece that originally inspired Picasso, I can’t help but wonder why Picasso chose this particular painting for his inspiration. How do artists decide what elements to take from others and how can they be successful in creating their own style?

It is evident to me that Picasso was very successful in creating a legacy that is solely attributed to him. As his father once told him, “I paint in reaction to the paintings which count for me, but I also work with what the [imaginary] museum lacks. Look carefully! It is just as important. You must to what is not there, what has never been done.”

Throughout the course of the exhibit, I felt like a herded cow, being hurried on by the hoards of people trying to get through the exhibit. While I enjoyed this opportunity a lot less as a result, there was so much to digest and I still gained a lot more than I would have had I not gone. I hope to be able to revisit Picasso’s works in the future, in a more relaxed setting, and in a way in which I can take the time to look in more detail at his artwork and that of his masters.

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