australian comedian Hannah Gadby he didn’t beat around the bush in his monologue Nanettehis farewell to comedy, which hit theaters in 2017 and aired on Netflix in 2018. “Picasso, I hate him, although if you think about cubism, you can’t hate him,” he said on the award-winning show, one of the most watched that year on the platform. An art history graduate, LGTBI activist, the acidic monologue managed to turn her traumas and the brutal abuse she suffered into jokes, but this refuge in humor, she explained in this performance, was about to finish it. “I should be more generous with him [Picasso] because he had a mental illness, but no one knows because it doesn’t fit with the mythology surrounding him. Picasso is a passionate, virile, tormented genius, and there is no room for anything else there,” he says, before diagnosing “misogyny” as the evil that afflicted the painter. “Should we learn to separate the man from his art? But then what if you took his name off the paintings, how much would they be auctioned off? she asked ironically and furiously.
The celebration of the Picasso year in 2023, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of his death on April 8, 1973, raises the question of to what extent or in what way the recurrent and brutal feminist criticism of the creator should be approached. In the heat of me too move, Gadsby’s monologue conveyed to a wide audience the controversy that surrounded the figure of Picasso and his relationship with women, a controversy that is by no means new and about which much has been written, but which in the 21st century has new relevance. There were protests and a symposium at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, podcasts dedicated to the theme or the artists who he has been described as a Harvey Weinstein of his time. With Fernande Olivier, Eva Gouel, Olga Khokhlova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gillot and Jacqueline Roque he maintains his most stable relationships, but in his long list of conquests are Gabrielle Lapeyre, Irène Lagut, Elvira Paladini, Émilienne Pâquerette or Geneviève Laporte, among others. And his private life is not excluded from his art: women are at the center of his work, in which he frequently speaks of desire, power and attraction.
“On the one hand, he is the best painter of the 20th century and no one will disagree with that. On the other hand, there is his life as a man, and it seems clear that he was a psychological aggressor and, according to some accounts, possibly physical as well,” he explains. Victoria Combalía, historian and art critic who wrote the canonical biography of Dora Maar and is familiar with the work of the Malaga native. “Picasso is a man educated in the 19th century, a time full of mistreatment. We pay more attention to him because he is genius, but among male creators it is very widespread”, testifies Combalía on the telephone, before mentioning narcissism as a frequent pathology among artists. “What would we have to say about Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch or Caravaggio? Compared to Picasso, the subject should not be ignored, but it should not be sensationalized either. Obviously, there is no need to justify it, but his work is still as good as ever. Women are a central issue in his work and eroticism is very important; good historians and experts have noticed it too”.
An expert in the painter’s work, Carmen Giménez planned and directed the Picasso Museum in Malaga and curated some of the most important exhibitions dedicated to the Malaga artist on both sides of the Atlantic. The most recent, the imposing exhibition this summer Picasso-El Greco, at the Kunstmuseum Basel, which is also part of the Picasso year, although the program officially begins on September 12. Giménez will also curate an exhibition of sculptures by the artist at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a commission she received from José Guirao, who until his deathJuly 11, was the commissioner appointed by the Ministry of Culture for the 2023 commemorations. His successor is Carlos Alberdi, who anticipates that in the re-reading of Picasso in the 21st century that they have planned, feminist objections will be addressed, by example, during a symposium in preparation for December at the Reina Sofía Museum.
“Times have changed and I understand that my grandchildren and I don’t see things the same way,” Giménez said over the phone. “But Picasso cannot be undone. If the subject of his relationship to women is broached, we must start by saying that we cannot judge him with today’s mentality, and that we have to do it, leaving a little of what is always repeat,” he says.
Cécile Debray, president since last November of the Picasso Museum in Paris, received with his nomination the challenge of celebrating the Picasso year, which had been planned as a transnational event, co-organized by France and Spain, but which was to extend to other countries. “It’s a great opportunity to address his vast legacy on an international scale,” he said over the phone. There will be 40 exhibitions in different places in Europe and North America which, from a “historiographical approach”, will address specific research or specific periods of Picasso’s vast production, his relationship to prehistory and to rock art, to the Pompidou, to his masculinity and relationship to women, at the Brooklyn Museum. “The challenges posed by this anniversary are multiple. There have been many exhibitions of Picasso, but in the 50 years since his death, the study of his work has changed. Showing an artist also means asking questions and I consider it very important to reach a young audience,” says Debray. “The figure of Picasso has drawn protests from the Me Too, compounded by malicious speculation, and therefore I believe that a historiographical approach provides the appropriate distance for analysis. Finding the balance to honor its heritage and appeal to younger generations requires careful and precise attention.
Predator is not the adjective I would apply to the painter Brigitte Benkemoun, journalist and author of two books devoted to two fundamental women for Picasso, Dora Maar and Marie-Thérèse Walter. Dominator, manipulator, selfish, possessive, yes he was, but he did not like to cause suffering, except perhaps in the sadomasochistic relationship he had with Maar, he wrote in an email. “His goal was not to see women suffer, but their art. When he got fed up with them because he felt they were no longer essential to his designs, he abandoned them. Nor does it seem appropriate to label the Malaga man a pedophile because he established a relationship with Walter when she was 17 and he was over 40. “It wasn’t a girl. Calling this story pederasty only fuels the caricature and confusion surrounding Walter’s fate.”
critic and scholar star of diego, who will deliver the opening lecture of the commemorations of the Spanish side at the Prado Museum on September 12, is clear that “you may not like Picasso as a person and see that his work is overwhelming”. The Picasso year, he argues, is an opportunity to “review and rethink” the artist, not only his relationship to women, “which eclipses everything else”, but “also to men, to his environment”. De Diego points to Picasso’s relationship – “an artist who has built himself as a brand as much as Dalí” – with low culture as one of the areas on which it would be interesting to dwell. “Picasso would do well to stop being Picasso for a while and put him in a place where we can talk about him,” he suggests. “This idea of the phenomenon of uncontrollable creative genius has never been revised, it has been untouchable and it still is, there is no way to present it as a fragile creator.”
The fragility of Picasso is not exactly the starting point of the exhibition being prepared at the Brooklyn Museum in New York by Catherine Morris and Lisa Small, respectively curators of feminist art and European art. As explained by videoconference, they will try to approach and “revisit, from the complexities posed by the current moment, a historical character who, whether we like his biography or not, continues to play a fundamental role in the history of art”.
Alongside Morris and Small working on the exhibition as guest curator is actress Hannah Gadsby, with whom they first met in 2018 after seeing her famous monologue, and they reconnected when the MoMA proposed to the Brooklyn Museum to be part of it Picasso of the year from a feminist point of view. “The three of us work to create the framework for a conversation around Picasso,” Morris explains. “His power emanated perhaps from his genius, but perhaps also from a series of external factors which allowed him to be what he was. What does this mean now? Why does it still capture our imagination? It has become in a way the symbol of a history which today is being rewritten on many fronts”, he adds, and speaks of the exhibition as a good opportunity to ask questions, rather than to give answers.
The exhibition is not presented “as a referendum on his failures as a person: neither justification nor burial”, they explain. The erasure or cancellation of Picasso makes no sense – “he is part of our history” – even if the curators understand that there are voices who do not share this, and they feel that they will be heard at the opening of the exhibition in June 2023 His project tries to open the debate on questions that go beyond the “polarization” generated by Picasso: “He is presented as the brilliant genius who launched modernity or as a monster. But both things can be true,” says Small.
In Nanette, Gadsby explained how Picasso freed art from the need to represent three-dimensional reality in two dimensions, and how his Cubism advocated incorporating all possible perspectives. Then he asked rhetorically if one of those perspectives was that of a woman or maybe the painter had put a kaleidoscope on her genitals. Perhaps in response to this, contemporary women’s art will be one of the keys to the exhibition at Brooklyn, Morris and Small detail, although they warn that the exhibition is still in the making and subject to change.
The “gravitational force” exerted by Picasso will be one of the key points, as well as the intersection of the “genius and fame” of an artist who transcended himself like few others. They also plan to organize debates and interviews with Gadsby and other women, because this time it will be them, neither victims nor muses, who will take Picasso at his word.
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