November 25, 2012

"Picasso Black and White" at The Guggenheim

It is my humble opinion that when planning an exhibition on an extremely famous and prolific artist, less is usually more.  Specifically, a show with an angle or theme is usually more manageable and ultimately informative to the average museum-goer rather than an enormous survey of a master's output.  In the case of Pablo Picasso, probably the greatest creator of art of the 20th Century, how to chose from the estimated 50,000 works including paintings, drawings, ceramics, prints, tapestries and sculptures is a challenge for even the most accomplished curators or institutions.   So I was fascinated when the Guggenheim Museum advertised its major fall exhibition as the specialized and intriguing "Picasso Black and White".

This is the first time that an exhibition has focused exclusively on this aspect of Picasso's œuvre.   While his career has been categorized into the Blue Period or Rose Period or Cubist or Neo Classical, to name just a few phases, Picasso is supposed to have claimed that color, in fact, "weakens" and often strove to remove color from his works to give them more structure and autonomy.  Indeed, this historical survey of his work demonstrates very clearly his continuing obsession with the monochromatic and the power of black, white and gray.

Presented here are 118 works including paintings, drawings and several sculptures beginning with his iconic 1904 oil on canvas "Woman Ironing" (see left) that leaves no doubt that gray is as expressive as a rainbow of color.  Other examples include deconstructed Cubist works such as "L'accordéoniste", 1911, Surrealist works such as the biomorphic "Milliner's Workshop", 1926 (see below), and many portraits of his various wives and companions including Fernande Olivier, Olga Khokhlova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque.  In every example, the tonality of black and white and gray served to enhance with its simplicity and allowed the strength of the line and form to shine.

While some of the works on display seemed a little unfinished, or sketchy, the sum of the parts was a very impressive argument for the language of black and white and showed once again why Picasso continues to influence generations of artists.  "Picasso Black and White" is on view until January 23, 2013.

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