Picasso and Calder leap into empty space in Malaga

A visitor in front of Calder’s ‘La Grande Vitesse’ deCalder and Picasso’s ‘Desnudo acostado’.
A visitor in front of Calder’s ‘La Grande Vitesse’ deCalder and Picasso’s ‘Desnudo acostado’. / Salvador Salas
  • The Picasso Museum sets the two artists in dialogue in an ambitious exhibition based on the concept of space and its absence

Human life needs space. Observation of it becomes literal, physiological, if the microscope focuses for example on the neurones, in the essential space which exists between one and another so a chemical discharge becomes an electrical current capable of transmitting basic orders from the brain to the rest of the body. Without that space, everything would fail. The body would collapse. Life would stop. And the importance of this space (and its absence) features in the new exhibition at the Malaga Picasso Museum (MPM), a dialogue between Pablo Ruiz Picasso and Alexander Calder, where it become full of movement, of suggestions, of life.

The display, titled ‘Calder-Picasso’, conjugates the work of two artists who appear to be very different. On one side is Picasso, expansive, influential and protean, and on the other, Calder, minimalist, contained, almost ethereal. And under this first layer, the project at the MPM establishes links which are so ferrous, connections which are so profound, that the work of one can be confused for that of the other in this exhibition, which has come from the Picasso Museum in Paris and can be visited in Malaga until 2 February 2020.

“We saw that the most interesting way of sharing the energy which they have in common was through the idea of emptiness,” explained Alexander S. C. Rower, president of the Calder Foundation and grandson of the American artist, at the opening this week.

Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Picasso’s grandson and the president of the Executive Board of the MPM and joint president of the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA), was also there to launch this “very ambitious project” featuring “two artists who were very different but also very similar and form part of the history of 20th century art”.

These two artistic giants have been brought together in an unconventional way, in an exhibition which seeks “new readings” of each of them through dialogue with the other, as Emilia Philipot, joint curator of the exhibition with Claire Garnier, explained at the presentation.

As a result, the MPM is presenting a fascinating project where “the light, the mobile, the transparent, the fluid and the luminous are all present,” said the artistic director of the Malaga museum, José Lebrero. The central theme is empty space, which can be elusive, and in the rooms at the MPM it is presented subtly and in an illustrative way through numerous bridges which exist between the two artists in very different phases, techniques and sensitivities.

Opening. José Lebrero, Claire Garnier, Emilia Philippot, Braulio Medel, Patricia del Pozo, Alexander C. S. Rower and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso at the presentation this week.

Opening. José Lebrero, Claire Garnier, Emilia Philippot, Braulio Medel, Patricia del Pozo, Alexander C. S. Rower and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso at the presentation this week. / SUR

The lighting for this display is crucial, because the play on volumes, lights and shadows have a special role. There is an idea of suspension, of levity, and Picasso and Calder appear to look at each other from a distance.

The effect occurs as soon as you set foot in this exhibition, which contains more than 100 works by these artists. It starts with three models of the projects which Picasso designed at the end of the 1920s, with the collaboration of Julio González, for the monument to Guillaume Apollinaire. A “statue made from nothing, like poetry, like fame,” wrote the poet in one of his books, and here it is paired effortlessly with Calder’s ‘Object with red discs’ (1931). Also on display, the little panel ‘Mujer desnuda tendida al sol en la playa’ and ‘La siesta’ on canvas (both from 1932) offer the curvilinear counterpoint to the straight lines in the first sculptures by both creators.

As similar as they are different

These two artists barely knew each other in life. Their works did coincide once, in the famous Spanish pavilion of the International Expo in Paris in 1937 at which Picasso presented ‘Guernica’ to the world and Calder gave it ‘Mercury Fountain’. However, this landmark in art history remained as just one more stage in a journey to a wider horizon and vocation, where both artists individually discovered a wish to represent the “non-space”.

And this challenge was tackled by each of them in formal, even vital, very different ways. While Calder took sculpture into the realm of mobile constructions, Picasso twisted the body and space to their own dimension. While the artist from Malaga saw each work as a self-portrait, Calder lifted the gaze to a universalist conception of his work.

Rower also summed this up at the opening of this exhibition which is sponsored by the Fundación Unicaja, whose president Braulio Medel described how exhibitions which relate the works of great artists are “particularly interesting”. When this exhibition was at the Picasso Museum in Paris it was visited by over 400,000 people.

They were almost strangers, but now they are leaping into empty space together at the Picasso Museum to celebrate art which is full of life.