Picasso at Eighty-five

Picasso & Co.

by Brassaï
Doubleday, 289 pp., $6.95

Picasso at Work

by Roland Penrose, with photographs by Edward Quinn
Doubleday, 272 pp., $9.95

Success and Failure of Picasso

by John Berger
Penguin, 224 pp., $2.25

Picasso, Shakespeare, Aragon

Abrams, 120 pp., $35.00

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso; drawing by David Levine

By the time Picasso’s eighty-fifth birthday year is over, major exhibitions will have taken place in Basel, Dallas, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, London, New York, Paris, and lesser ones will have cropped up all over the world. Meanwhile, every Picasso dealer is putting on a show to promote his holdings, and publishers are announcing new titles or revamping old ones. The irony is that all this public acclaim, unprecedented in the life of an artist, should come at a time when the more thoughtful young artists and critics have turned to new gods—just as fifty years ago they rejected the work of the aged Monet and supported cubism. But more of this later.

French recognition took the form of two vast retrospectives—284 paintings at the Grand Palais, 508 drawings, collages, sculptures, and ceramics (virtually all from Picasso’s own collection) at the Petit Palais—which were seen by a record total of 850,000 people. The figure is probably nearer a million, as the city of Paris organized an exhibition of the artist’s graphic work at the Bibliothèque Nationale. However, the less said of the latter show the better; the Bibliothèque seemed only out to disclaim its ownership of the largest public collection of Picasso graphics.

How disappointing, after so much tam-tam, to find that Malraux’s sense of ceremony should have failed him! The Grand Palais appeared to be making do with decor left over from the Salon des Arts Ménagers, but in fact the poky corridors, cramped nooks, and hazardous crannies had been specially devised by Malraux’s protégé, Reynold Arnould. So proud was Arnould of his handiwork that he exhibited a model of his lamentable installation in the middle of the show, thus compounding the felony. On the other hand, the exhibition at the Petit Palais not only looked better: it included a higher percentage of unpublished or unfamiliar things.

Picasso refused to come to Paris to hang—or see—the exhibition. “Why bother to arrange the pictures,” he snorted, “just stick them on the wall the way they come out of the truck.” If the artist had had his way, we would at least have been treated to some eye-opening confrontations. As it was, important and less important pictures of the same period or series were jammed together so that they clashed or canceled one another out. Not only did the hanging fail to make sense historically, stylistically, and aesthetically, but traces of scotch tape on the glass gave some of the pictures a Vaserely-ish veil. In the circumstances, my sympathies went out to Professor Jean Leymarie whose carefully chosen groups of pictures—they did justice to every phase of the artist’s work except, predictably, the Françoise Gilot period (1945-53)—were made to look less coherent and representative than they really were. Leymarie’s fully illustrated, if hastily compiled, catalogue provides a tantalizing record of what should and could have been a real apotheosis.


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