Curating an exhibition of Picasso’s work must be a daunting task. In “Picasso à l’Oeuvre. Dans l’Objectif de David Douglas Duncan” the incorporation of both Picasso’s artworks and representations of the artist at work in Duncan’s images, a connection between image and form effortlessly ensues. Although done with few words, the curation is nevertheless didactic, but in a good way. Clear conversations emerge between the artefacts and images juxtaposed, giving each an immediacy and a richer meaning than either would have alone. The photos reveal context, history, intimacy, nuance; the artefacts exude form, artistry, talent, vision.
Through Duncan’s photos, we see Picasso’s studio as a beautifully illuminated house, with high ceilings, art deco window frames, through which sunlight pours, casting panels of light and shadows of darkness across his working space. His images expose a light heartedness in the studio, with dancing, children playing, Picasso shirtless and in shorts, working, creating. Photos of Picasso in creational process offer in-sight into his methods, demystifying his working practice. With some of his abstract cubist drawings and paintings, for example, Duncan’s photographs reveal that these are not ideas compressed immediately onto paper, but arise from 3D models, which Picasso then translated into two dimensional versions. The objects similarly reveal Picasso’s quasi-childlike engagement with form, where he sees an object’s potential, over its prescriptive function. An oval ceramic bowl becomes the arena for a bull fight, where a shadowed audience on one rim overlooks the bullfight in the center, with a sun lit audience gazing back from the opposite edge of the bowl. Duncan’s images show Picasso producing several bowls at once, exposing an avidness for doing. Through both image and form, one can sense his inquisitiveness: “Here is an object, what can I do with this?” “What can I see in this?” “How can I make this object live?” “I have something to say, let’s say it now. If I change my mind, then I will say more or something else later!” Art is not separated from life here. It is life. It is a voraciousness, a hunger for production and action.
The playfulness evident in the photos is not quite repeated, as M E Palmer points out, in this gallery space. The painter’s palette, the first item in the exhibition, epitomizes this extreme seriousness. This object is under glass, with the label, “oil on wood”. A tool for creation – of art in life and life in art – is translated in the gallery into a venerable object, separated from any sense of use. Perhaps a nod to the absurdity of the recognition of art as art. Had some one saved the newspapers spread beneath Pollock’s floortop canvases, would these also become coveted objet d’art, complete with labels: “emulsion on paper”?
While veneration of the sacred works of Picasso and his artistic life captured on film predominate, there is also a glimmer of others’ interventions. In “Portrait of Jacqueline”, charcoal and collage on paper, the bow of her blouse is in a different shape than depicted in the 50 year old photo. A real ribbon, it has been retied in a jaunty fashion, with one loop too large and curling round twice on itself. How does someone else determine what Picasso might have intended or done himself? Is this perhaps a gentle attempt on the part of the conservator to make play and, like Picasso, be bold in this recreation?
The exhibition should be lauded for its emphasis on process as well as product and on revealing the joy derived from making art in life. In effect, there are three modes in this exhibition – of artworks, artist at work and their presentation in the gallery space. These together offer insight into an artist’s world and the art world at the same time. It is definitely worth experiencing these views and entering into the discussion these elicit.
Picasso à l’Oeuvre. Dans l’Objectif de David Douglas Duncan is at La Piscine – Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, in Roubaix, France until 20th May 2012.