As probably the most prolific and famous artist of the 20th Century, Picasso needs little introduction. But he does need re-evaluation.
It’s a point that Hannah Gadsby explicitly addressed in her recent zeitgeist-capturing show Nanette. In the Netflix special, she railed against the inarguable misogyny of a man who said he should burn every woman he’d left, and began an affair with an underaged girl when he was mid-forties and his wife was looking after their young son.
Lisa Slade, Assistant Director at the Art Gallery of South Australia, welcomes the introduction of this narrative into the wider discourse surrounding the artist. “Feminist scholars have been critiquing the canon for decades and Picasso has been a frequent subject in their critique. Griselda Pollock, Linda Nochlin, Memory Holloway – and in Australia, Helen Topliss and Juliette Peers – are just some of the scholars who have called out the masculine-centric nature of art history. Due to the wider proliferation of this knowledge, times might be finally changing!”
Adelaide audiences will have a chance to view some of his works soon, in a set of prints known as the Vollard Suite. They’re named after the art collector who commissioned them and the National Gallery of Australia owns one of the few complete sets of 100.
The prints come from etchings made over a seven-year period and unsurprisingly make use of a wide range of techniques and themes. In a number of etchings, Picasso portrays himself as a minotaur and touches on his own mortality and his relationship with his muse. Many also feature Marie-Thérèse Walter, the young woman with whom he was having an affair.
Several etchings address the power imbalance in their relationship and depict sexual violence. These works that are increasingly uncomfortable to view and Slade acknowledges that “the exhibition is set against the backdrop of our increasing awareness of sexual imbalance and the abuses of power.” But she adds that “it couldn’t come at a better time and proves that art is constantly remade by the time, place and viewers who experience it.”
Regardless of current re-evaluation of the man and his works, Picasso has had an outsized influence on modern (and post modern) art. Rather than tell the story of what came after, however, the Art Gallery of South Australia has chosen to highlight some of the artists who influenced him. The exhibition will include works by Goya and Rembrandt, the second especially apt as he is depicted numerous times in the Vollard Suite.
Also included is The Blood Of A Poet, a film by Picasso’s contemporary Jean Cocteau just as he was beginning work on the set. Maria Zagala, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Art Gallery of South Australia sees a direct connection between the visual and thematic focuses of the two artists. “Cocteau’s film – about the trials of being a poet – presents a world in which everyday objects are used as portals to a mythical realm. The poet’s ability to access this world of intuition and fantasy finds parallels in Picasso’s distinctive blending of the real and dream-like.”
Picasso: The Vollard Suite
Saturday, November 17 – Sunday, February 3
Galleries 9, 10 and 11, Art Gallery of South Australia
Header image: Minotaure aveugle guide par une fillette dans la nuit, from the Vollard Suite, Pablo Picasso, 1934, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra