Picasso is perhaps the best-known artist of the twentieth century. But throughout his career he also remained, in spirit, a genius of a little boy whose next prank was forever unexpected. This fall, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) devoted its entire fourth floor to approximately 140 sculptures the artist made between 1902 and 1964.
In size, these works range from incised pebbles to a monumental piece that stood outside the Loyalist Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair of 1937. (As an aside, it was for this same exhibition that Picasso created Guernica, his most epic work. That huge antiwar masterpiece “lived” at MoMA for 42 years until Spain got rid of its fascist dictatorship.)
Most of Picasso’s sculptures look spontaneous. They are fashioned from a variety of often unusual materials, including wood, plaster, bent metal, and bronze, as well as some objets trouvés.
The early works are somewhat conventional, but that would not remain the case for long. One of the special features of the exhibit is that it reunites, for the first time since their creation in 1914, the six absinthe glasses constructed from an actual liquor glass, a spoon and sugar cube, all cast in bronze and then painted. At first these unusual sculptures were considered banal, but today they are considered one of Cubism’s touchstones.
Many constructions, especially the animals, are humorous. All are inventive. The bull, one of Picasso’s favorite creatures, comes in several very different versions: one made from plywood, branches and ordinary hardware is edgy and transparent; another, fashioned from clay, is round and massive and devoid of details.
In Life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, his companion of the 1940s and the mother of Claude and Paloma, provides a rare vision of Picasso’s working methods. While living in Vallauris he gathered inspiring “stuff “ at the local dump. Sometimes the scavenged objects might inspire a sculpture, as they did in the case of the bicycle seat and handlebars that yielded a wonderfully abstract bull’s head.
Sometimes, as in the case of MoMA’s famous goat, the artist searched for parts that might serve his purpose. One morning he found an old wicker basket. “That’s just what I need for the goat’s rib cage,” he told Françoise, who accompanied him pushing an empty baby carriage in which she would transport the treasures to the studio. Picasso used two of his own pottery milk pitchers for the goat’s teats. He remembered that two years earlier he had collected a promising palm frond, and used it for the goat’s face and backbone. “The horns he fashioned from vinestalk,” Françoise wrote, “and the ears were pieces of cardboard filled with plaster.” The legs were cut from the branch of a tree with knobs that would look that bent like joints. When it was all finished it was cast in bronze, and the detail of the objects he used disappeared.
Since many sculptures ended up being cast in bronze, Françoise asked why he did not simply start from scratch. Picasso answered that “there is a good reason for doing it this way…the material itself, the form and texture of those pieces, often give me the key to the whole sculpture.”
Whenever viewing a Picasso show, one wonders how he managed to create as much as he did. Indeed, to me, some of his late paintings seems a bit repetitive, but not the sculptures. This show is just great and worth several visits.