Friday, October 2, 2015

The Master Sculptor

On the way to see the major exhibit of Picasso's sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I wasn't sure as to how I would react. One reason my familiarity with Picasso's sculpture was limited is that almost none of the objects on display in this major exhibition have been shown in public previously.

But there was one Picasso sculptural work with which I was familiar. It is the massive concrete version of Sylvette that is located near New York University in New York's Greenwich Village. Eileen and I were surprised when we first saw this large work, not because we didn't like it, because we did, but because we had apparently met the woman who had been Picasso's model for the sculpture.

Years back, when we spent most of a year in Britain, Eileen worked with a colleague there who was married to a French woman. She had been recruited as a model for Picasso in her younger days, she said, and, her husband observed, had been known as Sylvie to her friends, one of whom was Picasso. Not too surprisingly, the master invited her to come away with him, which offer, she, as a fairly level-headed late teenager (he was then in his 60s), declined.

Perhaps as a result of that decision, her career as a model for him was curtailed. I have a print of his painting of her and today, we saw the original sculpture from which the massive  version at NYU was made. All in all, my reaction was similar to how I react to paintings, collages, sculptures, and other art that the man produced throughout his long life--the quality of all of it was incredibly high.

I'm adding nothing to the volumes of criticism that have been devoted to analyzing Picasso, probably the premier artist of the 20th century. Yet it continues to amaze me that he had so much creativity and so much imagination to anticipate in most instances ideas that others would have later, they possibly never realizing that he had done it first. He began the experimenting in cubism with Braque; while Braque never achieved the significance in his later work that he had when engaged in developing cubism, Picasso went on to several further periods of major productivity and so much of the work he produced is truly fantastic.

Seeing this at the Museum of Modern Art, where several of his major paintings hang and many exhibitions have profiled his various creative periods, I thought back to his magnum opus that was there on loan for years when we were growing up, the huge canvas Guernica--probably the ultimate antiwar statement. In those days no one ever thought it would return to Spain since that return was conditioned on Spain abandoning Franco's fascism and returning to a democratic government.

There was a small sculpture of a bull's head and horns on one wall that conjured up recollection of Georgia O'Keeffe's many paintings on this theme, many of which we had seen recently in Santa Fe. As always, though, it seemed to say that Picasso was invariably there before anyone else. And, moreover, it also struck up wonderful memories of what I still think was his finest and most piercing work: Guernica.

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