Saturday, August 25, 2012


STOCKHOLM.- With the exhibition Picasso/Duchamp “He Was Wrong”; the Moderna Museet in Stockholm sets two giants, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, up against each other for the first time. They are often regarded as the two most influential artists of the 20th century Picasso, who personified the modernist painter, and Duchamp, the indifferent ironist and chess genius, who challenged painting and transformed art into a maze of intellectual amusements. Now, visitors to the Moderna Museet have a unique opportunity to witness this battle of giants and see where it leads. They may appear incompatible when contrasting the purpose of painting, and the eye versus the mind: 

“If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.” - Pablo Picasso 

“I was interested in ideas, not in visual products. I wanted to put painting again in the service of the mind.” - Marcel Duchamp 

 Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp are often seen as contraries. And admittedly, although they were often in each other’s immediate surroundings and shared many patrons and collectors, they nevertheless appear to have manoeuvred in totally different worlds. They were so different that their respective ideas on what art should be and can be seem irreconcilable, and yet from their extreme positions they simultaneously exerted incalculable influence on the destiny of modernism. 

Indeed, the author Octavio Paz once wrote: ‘Perhaps the two painters who have had the greatest influence in this century are Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. The former with his entire oeuvre; the latter with one single work, which is a veritable negation of the modern sense of work.' 

The exhibition Picasso/Duchamp “He Was Wrong” represents a passionate confrontation between what are perhaps the greatest of rivals in 20th century art. Reflecting on the resistance each artist felt towards the other is especially meaningful given that 2012 is the centennial anniversary of the first meeting between Picasso and Duchamp. The contrasts between the two artists will be explored, from Picasso’s fascination with the Minotaur to Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp’s feminine alter ego. 

Before Picasso died in 1973, he had noted, with rising resentment, that other artists were challenging his legacy. According to Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson, the growing number of young artists who preferred Duchamp was something that Picasso could never reconcile. Richardson writes: “If it had been Matisse, who was always a rival, it wouldn’t have mattered. But who were they looking up to on the other side of the Atlantic but Marcel Duchamp of all people! Picasso despised him. Allegedly, Picasso’s only comment on hearing that Duchamp had died was: “He was wrong.” 

NOTE:  The Stockholm Moderna Museet (see the announcement excerpt above) has had a superb idea for a late summer art exhibition, one which fortunately extends until early next March, a fact any reader planning a trip to Stockholm should note. 

Gallery and museum summer shows often seem based on will-of-the-wisp curator ideas allowing novel, rubric-referenced assembly and display of combinations of famous and store room artworks, occasionally supplemented by borrowed pieces.   That description might apply to Gaughin-Cezanne-Matisse Visions of Arcadia, which we viewed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Thursday, although the comment is in no way intended to deride the quality of the show, which is superb and should be visited and re-visited by anyone with the time and pocketbook to do so.   (Museums have gotten so expensive!  It's a scandal.)  Visiting the PMA, we also enjoyed (unexpectedly) the works of 20th century Pennsylvania artists Wharton Esherick, Benton Spruance and Frederick Harer.  The best part of post-college education truly is striking out on your own and leaving the Hit Parade behind.

But the Moderna Museet's idea is truly clever and  relevant and should animate anyone seeking to explore with their minds and eyes The Nub of Modern Art and the subject's logical and imaginative limits.

The illustrations here (from the top down) include Picasso's La Femme A La Collorette Bleue (1941), Duchamp's Fountain (1917), Picasso's Guernica (1937), Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23), Picasso's La Source (1921) and Duchamp's Bottle Rack (1914).

The image below, taken from the Bundesarchiv files, shows Guernica following its air bombardment by the Germans and Italians at the behest of the  Nationalists.  It serves as a reminder that art's limits are congruent with man's and his capacity to kill and ruin everything for every conceivable reason.

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