The swoon of the professional crickets had me wondering about their impressions. One was so taken with the show, he seemed to be suffering from emphysema (“I found myself constantly having to catch my breath …”) Poor cricket. But at least his cataracts were cleared up (“… you can feel the scales fall from your eyes.”) My own assessment of MoMA’s “Picasso Sculpture” is no more than an amateur’s impression. If I had to pick a favorite piece in the show, I might pick the black-painted bronze “Little Owl” (it IS small, by the way) for the touching humbleness of its expression. The owl is not as familiar as Picasso’s iconic images, certainly not as familiar as his bulls, a small vase of which is another favorite and for the same reason.
What I think the exhibition shows is Picasso’s ingenuity. He had a genius for tinkering. The exhibition might have been titled “Picasso, World’s Greatest Tinkerer,” pace Leonardo. Or “World’s Most Whimsical Tinkerer.” Or let’s go all the way: “Most Whimsical and Accomplished Tinkerer Ever to Set Foot on Planet Earth and Maybe Beyond That in Our Galaxy.” Not to be dismissive, but with 140 magnificently ingenious pieces of all sizes, shapes, mediums, and styles on view, it’s hard for me to think of a more inspired way to put it.
A painter I know agrees, but he puts it better:
The entire span of Picasso’s career was a struggle against facility. Hence his tireless championing of Cezanne & van Gogh, who of course lacked almost all facility (in the academic sense of the word). Picasso says somewhere, “If Cezanne had painted like Jacques-Émile Blanche, he’d not have had the faintest interest for me.” Even Picasso’s work from the late period (1950-1972 roughly speaking) shows how he is defeated by facility. As a painter he never quite reached Braque’s quality, yet as a draughtsman/etcher he will forever remain unsurpassable.
Here are some photos to give a sense of Picasso’s genius for tinkering. They’re a mere glimpse, of course, and don’t show the sizes of the pieces relative to each other.
Some more pieces of magnificent tinkering (click the images to enlarge them):