A Lure of Language

Picasso and the Allure of Language

Nasher Museum at Duke University

August 20, 2009 - January 3, 2010


I will be the first to admit that I approached this show with caution and also a bit of trepidation.  The thought crossed my mind that the jig was up and it's just that our museum-going selves haven't caught on as yet.  I mean, can there really be that much more to be said in a Picasso exhibition that hasn't been said already?  The blockbuster shows, of which there have of course been many, have effectively worked over the terrain of Picasso as artistic genius to the point of exhaustion, but "Picasso and the Allure of Language" the current show at the Nasher Museum at Duke proves there is still fertile territory to be plumbed.  This show's perspective takes a beguiling multi-faceted approach with the primary aim of exploring the role and influence of language and writing in Picasso's work.

 

Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery in conjunction with Yale's Beinecke Library and support from the Nasher, the show displays manuscripts, letters, book projects, catalogues, and poetry both from Picasso himself (I have to admit I didn't know he had written such a large amount of poetry) and his contemporaries such as Georges Braque and particularly writer Gertrude Stein.  Surprisingly, fewer paintings are on hand than might be expected though the show includes a multitude of prints, drawings, and various illustrated book editions. There are also archetypal cubist-style Picassos included that were either created on newsprint or utilized newspapers as source/ subject material such as the work "Pedestal Table with Guitar and Sheet Music" from 1920.  One of the more intriguing works is entitled "Dice, Packet of Cigarettes, and Visiting-Card" from 1914  in which the artist remade one of Gertrude Stein's and Alice Stoklas's calling cards (left at Picasso's door when they called on him in his absence) into a collage work itself regifted by the artist and left at Stein's and Stoklas's door shortly afterwards.

 

It is a natural that this show emanates from Yale in that the literary influence of Gertrude Stein on Picasso's work can be directly traced from and supported by the Beinecke Library's vast archive of her writings.  An early benefactor of Picasso, collector of his work and his primary patron during the crucial formative cubist years of 1905-1914, Stein was a larger than life expatriate figure with an enormous influence in Parisian artistic life of the time.  The real heart of the show lies in precisely her particular literary lineage and influence and it becomes apparent that the impact of writers and poets upon early 20th century visual artists cannot be underestimated.  This literary influence which, as shown here is always a strong undercurrent in Picasso's work, is unfortunately often overshadowed by the sheer bravura of his artworks themselves (as well as his mythic persona and larger than life reputation.)

 

It is to the show's benefit that it possesses such strong multi-media appeal (a snazzy touch-screen video display with digitally turning manuscript pages kept many viewers' rapt attention while I visited the show)  and is quite interdisciplinary in nature.  In this sense, it is in keeping with our media enthralled age to a degree and yet also able to strike some common ground with appeal for lovers of the visual image, the written word and the printed page- vintage bibliophiles, art fans, and Twitterers alike. 


While the chronology of the show is vast - exhibited work spans across Picasso's life from age 19 to his 87th year - the intimate feel of the show in the Nasher's gallery gives it the feel of a retrospective in miniature form.  One in fact will likely leave feeling a bit dazzled by it all... but also refreshed.

 

(author's special thanks to Thornton Wilder for his suggestion to Stein to donate her literary archive to Yale in the first place.  Who knows how much longer we would have had to wait before some intrepid scholar would have tracked down these literary linkages otherwise?) 


Picasso-06.jpg

(image courtesy the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University)
October 18, 2009 8:38 PM | | Comments (0)

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This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on October 18, 2009 8:38 PM.

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