Early in May 1930, Picasso was horrified to discover that a number of early works he had left in the family’s Barcelona apartment for safekeeping had been stolen and were being offered for sale on the Paris market. After realizing the extent of the theft—391 drawings and ten paintings—he brought a lawsuit against the perpetrators… The fight to get his early work back would last eight years. It would stir up a storm of animosity and set Picasso against his mother and his sister’s family in Barcelona…
“How well I understand,” Picasso concluded, “why papas and mamas tell their children to stop scribbling on bits of paper. The brats don’t realize the difficulties this will create in the future.” — John Richardson, A Life of Picasso*
The exhibition PICASSO AND PAPER explores the artist’s manipulation of the medium, bringing together his prints, studies, collages, letters, illustrated poems, photographic collaborations with Dora Maar, and endless drawings—on artist’s paper, on newsprint, on napkins, “scribbling on bits of paper.”
At the center of the film is this idea that there is no muse, or that it’s a beautiful word for hiding the reality of how women have been collaborating with artists. I wanted to portray the intellectual dialog and not to forget that there are several brains in the room. We see how art history reduces the collaboration between artists and their companions: before, a muse was this fetishized, silent, beautiful woman sitting in the room, whereas we now know that Dora Maar, the “muse” of Picasso, was this great Surrealist photographer. And Gabrièle Buffet-Picabia, the companion of Picabia, was intensely involved in his evolution…
I wanted to portray the reality of that in the process of actually making a film in strong collaboration with my actresses. — Céline Sciamma, writer and director of PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
Sciamma and her stars—Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel—are in town to present a special screening of PORTRAIT OFA LADY ON FIRE, followed by a Q & A. Three days later, the writer-director will present an encore screening.
Violence is what pleases me most—I feel at ease in it—I adore frightening people… but after I have atrocious fears… if I do not succeed in expressing myself in violence (in a civilized manner if possible) depression and self-destruction appear. — Louise Bourgeois*
Among the commonalities—and there are more than a few—shared by Louise Bourgeois and Pablo Picasso: they both had long, protean artistic careers marked by very strong late period work focused on eroticism and intimacy, often in the form of “the couple.” This point is examined with great sensitivity in the exhibition catalog LOUISE BOURGEOIS & PABLO PICASSO—ANATOMIESOF DESIRE, a masterpiece of scholarship and visual documentation published by Hauser & Wirth in coincidence with the eponymous Zürich exhibition.
Edited by Marie-Laure Bernadac, the show’s curator, the volume presents extensive, beautifully reproduced “intentional pairings” of the artists’ work as well as writings by curators (Émilie Bouvard and Bernadac), a psychoanalyst (Gérard Wajcman), and Bourgeois’ assistant and closest confident during the last thirty years of her life—Jerry Gorovoy.
Of particular interest are essays by Picasso’s granddaughter, the art historian and curator Diana Widmaier Picasso (“Pregnant Woman: In the Work of Louise Bourgeois and Pablo Picasso”) and Ulf Küster (“Femme couteau—Thoughts on an Idea in the Oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois”), the curator whose Fondation Beyeler exhibition A l’infini (2011)—a show of Bourgeois’ sculptures in conversation with work by Fernand Léger, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, and Picasso—inspired ANATOMIES OF DESIRE.
Bourgeois frequently explored the theme of knife and woman in her art. As is often the case in her work, her subject not only concerns an object but also an action that cannot be seen apart from that object… Her works furthermore seem to have an immediate and urgent presence for her, one that extends beyond their makeup as mere objects; in Camille Guichard’s 1993 documentary, for example, she speaks about sculptures as persons…
It would go too far to cite “animism” in this context, and even the term “fetish” likewise does not seem appropriate because the implied religious aspect is completely lacking in Bourgeois’ oeuvre. But her works are nevertheless charged with her emotions, primarily addressing herself and yet provoking reactions. Her relationship to her own works seems to be of greater significance for her than the relationship of the work to the public. — Ulf Küster**
*Louise Bourgeois, letter to her husband, art historian Robert Goldwater, November 13, 1969, cited in Ulf Küster, “Femme couteau—Thoughts on an Idea in the Oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois,”** in Louise Bourgeois & Pablo Picasso: Anatomies of Desire, exhibition catalog (Zürich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2019), 70–82.
“On February 6, 1954—not quite halfway through my twelve years with Douglas [Cooper]—I turned thirty. Douglas planned a birthday celebration that would also serve as a belated housewarming. But on February 5, the arctic chill that had paralysed much of Europe turned even fiercer, and for the first time in decades Castille was beautifully blanketed with a heavy fall of snow… We put the party off until Easter.
“On Easter Sunday… some of us went to the bullfight… In the course of the corrida, Picasso and Jacqueline [Roque] announced that they and the rest of their group—sixteen in all, including Picasso’s son, Paulo… and Jean Cocteau, plus entourage—would like to dine at Castille; he also announced that he had a present for us… an Ingresque drawing that had obsessed me ever since I first saw it pinned on a wall at Le Fournas: an uncompromisingly frontal image of a naked girl, legs wide apart, seated like an odalisque on a pile of cushions. It had been heavily worked. To create highlights and smudge shadows, Picasso used an eraser—a device he admitted borrowing from Matisse… I was surprised at his giving us something so personal until I realized that the gift must have been made at Jacqueline’s behest. She would have had every reason to want this erotic image removed from the studio wall: it represented one of her rivals, Geneviève Laporte. Characteristically, Picasso brought the drawing in the box that had contained the Dior wrap we had given Jacqueline for Christmas. No less characteristically, he kept the box; he liked to incorporate emballage in his work. As Picasso handed over the drawing, he said, presciently, ‘When you two split up, you’re going to have to cut it in half.’ After we broke up, Douglas simply kept it. Sadly, the drawing disappeared when Castille was burgled some years later. So far as I know, it’s still in the hands of the Mafia.” — John Richardson*
The writer, curator, collector, raconteur, art world insider, and great Picasso biographer JohnRichardson died in Manhattan this week. Volume IV of A Life of Picasso was nearly complete at the time of its author’s death, and should be published later this year.
*John Richardson, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 203–204.
From top: John Richardson (left) and Pablo Picasso, photograph by André Villers (detail), courtesy Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and ADAGP, Paris; Andy Warhol, JohnRichardson, courtesy Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Richardson with NanKempner at the Met Gala, circa 1980, photograph by Patrick McMullan; Richardson (right) with Boaz Mazor, circa 1975, photograph by Bob Colacello.