Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Picasso Musings

Regular readers might remember my post about the Online Picasso Project, a delirous joy for fans of that seminal artist. Today comes a double shocker.

First, I'm amazed that my absolute favorite Picasso, La Reve (The Dream) (1932) is in private hands. Casino magnate Steve Wynn owns it as part of his vast collection.

I'm pretty much sold on Picasso as the most important visual artist of the first half of the twentieth century (I think a good argument could be made that Andy Warhol holds that distinction for the second half). Even before he invented Cubism and changed all the rules of visual expression, Picasso was already the supernaturally talented painter of a slew of Blue Period masterpieces like The Old Guitarist (1903) and The Tragedy (1903) (below), both painted when he was only twenty-two, as well as the amazing Rose Period paintings like The Family of Saltimbanques (1905) (also below) and many others.

At the ripe old age of twenty-six Picasso invented Cubism, a paradigm shift so tectonic that he could hardly match it again, although he continued to create brilliant work right up to his death in 1973 at the age of ninety-two.

I'm a huge Cubism nut and I think Picasso brought a more focused intensity, more genius, really, to his Cubist works than any other artist ever managed. Check out the spare monochromatic complexity of his famous 1910 portrait of the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, on the right.

But for sheer beauty -- in form, color balance, sensuality, and passion -- I'll take La Reve any day. Painted when Picasso was fifty-one, this painting of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter is a true work of love. Marie-Thérèse never looked so beautiful; check out his other portraits from the same year if you don't believe me. The work is suffused with an intense eroticism; note the dual reading as both a front portrait and a profile view with penis -- presumably the artist's -- above her face.

La Reve is the Picasso I'd most like to have hanging on my wall at home (next to Matisse's The Dance, Jackson Pollack's Lavender Mist, and something by Jasper Johns -- as long as I'm designing my dream collection).

I was shocked to discover that La Reve is privately owned. That was the first surprise. Then I had an extra pang when I read the news today that Wynn was going to sell it (for a record $139 million) until he accidentally put his elbow through it while showing it to some celebrity friends.

Nora Ephron was there, and she blogged about it here. The New Yorker also has a nice story about the incident.

I can't imagine actually owning such a famous masterpiece in the first place. But if I did own La Reve, I certainly can't see myself ever selling it (assuming that, like Wynn, that I didn't really need an extra $139 million). Donate it to a museum, sure. But sell it to another wealthy private collector? I mean, why?

Be that as it may, I think it would definitely ruin my whole week if I accidentally punched a hole in it. Maybe Wynn needed that little lesson to remind him of why he collects great art in the first place. He and his wife have decided to repair La Reve and keep it after all.

Now isn't that a touching story?


The Magic Utopian said...

I once thought Picasso as the most influential or important artist of the 20th century, but have changed my mind for Duchamp.

Picasso, of course, forever changed our ideas of perspective and form, but Duchamp really challenged our minds and the nature of "what is art?"

Though, Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" is probably the most important painting of the 20th century. I'll give him that.

Anyhow, that guy who poked a whole through "The Dream" is an idiot! I couldn't believe my eyes when I read that in the news last week. IDIOT!

Great blog, by the way. All of your art history blogs are good.

Magic Utopia

PeaceLove said...

Thanks for the comment, Utopus. Back in 2004, a panel of 500 British art critics voted Duchamp's 1917 "Fountain" (a store-bought urinal placed on display in a museum) the most important modern art work of the 20th century:

I'd be hard pressed to argue the point. Warhol's career, certainly, has a lineage almost directly traceable to Duchamp's seminal work and that of the other Dadaists. Warhol's great breakthrough was in the deliberate and promiscuous commodification of art; not only did he appropriate the everyday and mundane and call it art, but he used the full power of modern printing and distribution to make multiple copies. Warhol also blended the symbology of fame, the mythology of modern media, and the visual style of commercial art (where he got his start).

I chose Picasso because he created a visual language that continues to influence every aspect of our visual world even today. But Duchamp -- for entirely different reasons -- is certainly a worthy choice as well.

Anonymous said...

I have made an awesome recreation of his work at age 13. Of course it's not as beautiful, but it's actually very easy to make. It takes FOEVER, but it's not a very complicated concept