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  • Christian Hain

Pablo Picasso Visits Plattner in Potsdam. Picasso – The Late Work at Museum Par- no: Barberini!

(Potsdam.) Back in Potsdam, “Berlin’s Versailles”, and the mix of historicising new and once-destroyed-then-restored-thus-somehow-still-authentic mansions still feels fake, too clean, sterile and artificial; wandering through the streets of Potsdam easily leaves you with the impression of having stepped into the façades of a film set. But be that as it may, we’ve not come here for architecture, we’re here for Hasso or in fact: the art, Mr Hasso Plattner shows at his Barberini Museum (another rebuild of a historic original). This spring, it’s all about Pablo, the late Picasso - “late” as in “later days”, or “period”; Picasso - The Late Work comprising sculptures and paintings from the treasure chambers of his second and last wife Jacqueline, now in the possession of her daughter, Mme Catherine Hutin. Though rarely shown in public, you could recognize quite a few of them from the well-known studio photos of the era, where they form the background of the maestro himself (and a dog or two, occasionally).

Now this is funny, you could call it almost audacious: The show’s grand opening took place on 8 March - indeed, just savour the fact: The opening of an exhibition dedicated to 20th Century Art’s manliest man, the insatiable minotaur, Painting’s Harvey W., taking place on that International Woman N̶o̶n̶s̶e̶n̶ Day ... Most certainly not a statement, but mere coincidence. Morals aside, he was one of, if not the greatest, no, let me rephrase that: one of the greatest painters in history, and the greatest in 20th Century Art, and – what are you saying? This is the new millennium, we only care for morals, our morals, everywhere and anytime, exempting not even - and particularly not - artists? Picasso could never survive the today's Twitter mob (ever noticed how “shitstorms” are a good ole' medieval tradition – taken more literally then and aimed at a pillory, but still)? Well, um, maybe I could just continue for the handful of obstinate conservatives who still bear with me? Ok, the later Picasso had lost nothing from his greatness, yet he seems to have rarely taken serious (or utterly failing in) the pursuit of his self-proclaimed life goal: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” (hard to find an exact source, or at least a date for that famous quote). Saying, what he did instead was incomparably more profitable, would be beside the point, but you cannot deny a certain routine in his work – on the highest.

All these artworks emanate a peculiar form of laid back mastery, Picasso had done his share of art history long ago, had nothing left to prove, owed nothing to anyone. Having mastered classical painting in his teens and equalled the old masters, he started movements and revolutionized art (also became a filthy rich pop star on the side).

Could some of the works here be “too Picasso” in fact, frozen in pose? The earliest paintings date from 1954, and much of the collection is “unmistakeably Picasso”, identifiable at a single glance, in the shortest of instants, offhanded masterpieces that probably not even demanded overmuch effort from the artist. Assembly line production, mass output, had it all become a lazy routine, too easy?

Then again, did he really, and only, repeat himself - and not rather bring to perfection, find a culmination point? There's still an immense variety, and the most interesting works are those, where Picasso does not look like Picasso - he did possess the power to surprise, and to impress, still.

Take a closer look: The late Picasso frequently revisited his - and great masters of - earlier periods. On the one hand, he nonchalantly cited himself (take, only one example of many, a common spoon acting as the head of a sculpture in a nod to the Bull’s Head of 1942) and on the other, his idols, be they historic or contemporary. Among others, we find a remix of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (and am I hallucinating, or is there truly a resemblance between the Head of A Man, 1971, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Renaissance “fruit-men” of The Four Seasons?), while a Homme marchant au bord de la mer ("Man Walking on the Beach", 1957) is pointing way further back, to Primitivism in its earliest form, i.e. cave painting (today, Jérôme Mesnager follows in a similar vein). Occasionally, Picasso even combined both in a work: Les Femmes d’Algers ("The Women of Algiers", 1955) directly quotes Eugène Delacroix, but also Picasso’s own Demoiselles d’Avignon, and furthermore, he painted it in reaction to the Algerian War, demonstrating unabated interest in contemporary events.

All this happened at a time, when others conducted the most far-fetched experiments, but Picasso had ‘been there, done that’, all of it, and more, and better, half a century before. And he did stay contemporary too, in his way, the experts trace influences from Karel Appel, Jean Dubuffet, Philip Guston – and even Andy Warhol. Despite Picasso not seeming “cool” anymore, no longer avant-garde in the 1960s and 70s - and why should he?, he attentively observed everything that was going on in the (art)world, and drew inspiration from areas as diverse as fashion photography - although in the case of suspicious similarities to Richard Avedon branded magazine covers, it’s impossible to say if it was not merely the zeitgeist, as the show’s head curator, Mr. Bernardo Laniado-Romero elaborates - and pop music: Picasso researchers discover Beatles album covers in his paintings of the Sixties. (It’s definitely not the same level of genius, or only of cultural relevance, but these days you might think of somebody else, recently deceased, who un to the very end was doing the same, keeping ears and eyes open to the mainstream, the world of mass entertainment that inspired his craft, thinking oph a thertain German born phashion dethigner here.)

Most of all, and almost omnipresent, there’s Pablo’s nemesis, his great friend and worthiest colleague: Henri Matisse.

At the very start of Picasso – The Late Work hangs a self portrait flanked by two Jacquelines, shown in line like a triptych almost, the one on the left being Pablo's first ever painting of her, 1954. This Jacqueline's background sets the tone for the whole exhibition, with “à plat” colour fields and a deliberate touch of unfinishedness – that’s Matisse. The blue, the green, that pattern on the floor – remember Henri’s Vue de Notre Dâme? There are numerous more examples, just keep your eyes open when visiting Barberini which of course you should.

In 1955, Picasso invested a month’s worth of artistic output (entirely random guess) in acquiring California. To be precise, it was only the villa “La Californie” in Cannes, but the state would probably not have been out of his reach either.

The maestro moved in there with Jacqueline and her daughter Catherine, the same who later inherited this collection (and some more works, used to cover the nasty inheritance taxes) and to whom Picasso would refer as his “fille de lait”, literally his “milk daughter”, a neologism evoking a milk nurse. Of his many portrays of her, we find only one example at Barberini. Interieur scenes from La Californie have again written “Matisse” all over them, and also appear the most childlike Picasso ever got. To finish with this: try looking at La Pique ("The Pike"; not the more famous, and monochrome, one of 1961 you find on Google, but a colourful version from ’59) and not think of Jazz, the Matisse album.

And Jacqueline, ever again Jacqueline, he did paint her a lot in his later, and last, years, but the portraits still seem overrepresented in this collection – could it be, that she (and later her daughter) refused to give herself away? The grief for Pablo by the way is usually held responsible for Jacqueline’s suicide by gunshot in 1986, thirteen years after his passing.

Even though there are only few “true” self portraits (why?), the minotaur is of course not amiss. A herd of them locked into a single room, an arena, a bullring, they will scent, and watch over, the nudes in two nearby rooms. They could easily stampede there, and they probably do, every night, when the last visitor has left.

Last time, we paid a visit to Barberini, it was for Richter and upon being asked, he told the media, how he didn’t want any museums dedicated to him alone. That’s quite the opposite attitude to Picasso with his – well, let me see, how many are there: Barcelona, Paris, Malaga, Antibes, Vallauris, another one in Malaga, Buitrago del Lozoya, Münster (that indeed exists, mostly for prints, but still), that’s eight, and counting. Take that, Pablo. The Late Work is the largest exhibition ever shown at Barberini (so far), and it only tackles the last twenty years of a career spanning seventy-plus years – take that, Gerd. The sheer vastness of Picasso’s body of work never fails to impress. Painting was natural to him like breathing, a mode de vie.

The artist still being a cash cow for his heirs, we have zero information as to whether they need accounting software to keep the books for their collection, and if they do, which one they are using – SAP or Oracle. In the latter case, they might have been offered a bargain recently, inviting them to switch platforms (because Barberini is Plattner is SAP, for the ignorant among you).

Picasso – The Late Work, 9 March-16 June 2019, Barberini Museum

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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