Friday, 12 May 2023, 13:38
People usually remember that great Picasso exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris that paid homage to the artist in the 1960s for his paintings. Yet they often forget about the sister exhibition of his sculptures that ended up at the Petit Palais.
This difference in staging and language regarding what we consider great and small was resurrected in Malaga on Monday by the artist's grandson. Bernard Ruiz-Picasso's metaphor defines our perception of this grand master of 20th-century art as solely a painter.
But Pablo Picasso also saw himself as a sculptor, an activity that he enjoyed and maintained throughout his life. Unlike his oil paintings and drawings, he felt that his sculptures were not as highly valued or understood, so he made the decision to keep most of this work for himself.
Those highly personal creations are what the Museo Picasso Málaga (MPM) unveiled on Monday with the inauguration of Picasso Sculptor. Matter and Body, the first exhibition in Spain devoted exclusively to the artist's most monumental work. The show, part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Picasso's death, will occupy the temporary exhibition rooms in the Palacio de Buenavista until September,
With some pieces standing more than two metres high, many of them are displayed so visitors can walk around them to view them from different angles, there is a character and grandeur to this collection, bringing together 60 works made between 1909 and 1964.
The exhibition initiates MPM's and Malaga city's participation in the wider, international series of events, Celebrating Picasso 1973-2023 which, driven by the governments of Spain and France, involves a total of 50 exhibitions in Europe and the USA to commemorate, disseminate and reinterpret the work of the Malaga-born artist.
The ambitious Picasso Sculptor. Matter and Body coincides with another important event, the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of Malaga's Picasso museum.
Monday also saw the return to the MPM of a very special person, Carmen Giménez, promoter and first director of the gallery, now curator and author of this pioneering show.
The exhibition will have a second life as, after its closure in Malaga, it will move to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. There too, it will make history as it will be the first solo exhibition on Picasso in this museum in the Basque Country, the land of Picasso's most enduring and iconic work: Guernica.
"I wanted only sculptural work to be on show because it never garnered much interest and such a show had never been done in Spain. Moreover, I preferred not to include sketches as these require a different lighting and I preferred to show only the sculptural pieces as a fantastic space has been created in these temporary exhibition rooms of the Picasso Museum to admire them," explained the curator Carmen Giménez.
She also alluded to the foreword in the exhibition catalogue written by Professor of Art History at New York University, Pepe Karmel, who highlighted that the singularity of this collection is not only that it is re-asserting the value of Picasso's sculpture, but also that the exhibition focuses on the human body "which was the main interest of the artist and is an unprecedented take on showing his sculptural work".
The collection includes some iconic pieces. As with the colossal Femma au Vase (Woman with Vase, 1933), part of the legacy of Guernica.
"This sculpture was also exhibited in the Spain Pavilion at the 1937 World Expo in Paris, which is why Picasso wanted it to return to Spain with democracy," explained the curator, who also indicated that this bronze piece is one of only two made in the 1970s from the plaster original, which was later destroyed by Jacqueline Roque so that no more copies could be made.
The one on show in Malaga comes from the collection at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, whereas the second bronze remains in the Château of Vauvenargues (France) on Picasso's tomb.
This is a return to the city for Woman with Vase, as it featured in the well-remembered exhibition Classic Picasso (1992), curated by Carmen Giménez herself and which laid the foundations for the city's reunion with its prodigal son.
"It was shown in the Episcopal Palace which was restored for the occasion and where today a very fun exhibition by Javier Calleja is on display that I recommend," added Giménez.
Walking through the exhibition Giménez has shown how Matter and Body allows us to see Picasso's style evolve from cubist postulates (for instance, use of geometric shapes) to the purest experimentation, assembling statues made with the most curious mix of materials such as plaster, wood, iron, bronze or sheet metal, sometimes even adding some paint.
This can be seen in Standing Woman (1953) - whose arm is one of his used paintbrushes and her head is a pot lid.
"I love this work which comes from the private collection of Almine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso and is being exhibited for the first time in Malaga," said the curator, who added that the show includes works from the National Picasso Museum in Paris and, above all, "from the family, who have been very generous".
Thus, Bernard, Almine, Paloma and the heirs of the recently deceased Maya Ruiz-Picasso have also loaned out pieces never before exhibited as, since Picasso decided to keep for himself almost all his sculptural output, these pieces passed directly into the hands of his descendants on his death.
Among those pieces never on loan to an exhibition before now is the one that closes this show. Dated 1964, it is the model for the great sculpture that Picasso designed for Chicago city and measures 20 metres high.
"It is a ground-breaking work because it is one of the few that he did for public spaces and it is only on loan for exhibition in Malaga," commented Giménez, who has displayed this piece in counterpose with another model from 1928, the project for a monument to Guillaume Apollinaire that was rejected, thus causing Picasso to choose not to show his sculptural work in public, keeping it for his eyes only.
Like many of the works by the man from Malaga, these pieces also allow us to learn more about Picasso's life through his art. The exhibition includes busts of Fernande Olivier, Francois Gilot, Marie Therese-Walter or the young Sylvette whom he repeatedly sculpted in the 50s, as well as a curious piece - the hand of Picasso himself.
This same hand, which here is motionless, cast in bronze, yet, when alive, never ceased to create and play.
This exhibition too shows the more playful, fun side of Picasso, according to its curator.
The show has been organised in conjunction with the National Picasso Museum in Paris and the Spanish National Commission to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso's death and is sponsored by Telefónica and Fundación Bancaria Unicaja.
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