May 15, 2011

"God is really only another artist..."

"...He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things.” - Picasso

Picasso in QR Codes

...Such a brilliantly provocative and deadpan-humorous observation.  So was this Picasso's John Lennon "We're more popular than Jesus now" moment?  Was Picasso saying God's an artist - just like him?  Or was he declaring that he's just like God? 

Whatever the meaning or motivation behind the statement, it appears on the ceiling at the very end of Picasso: Masterpieces from Musee National Picasso, Paris, a traveling exhibition of essential works from Picasso's personal collection.  The 176-work collection, on tour while the Paris museum is undergoing a year-long renovation, includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, and etchings by the artist and serves as a retrospective spanning each notable artistic period of his eight-decade career.

One could drone until next Thursday about Picasso's pre-eminent stature that casts a shadow over all other artists of the 20th century, his indelible influence on all future art, his...I'm droning on even as I write about droning on about Picasso, aren't I?  What new can be said about the man that hasn't been said already?  Well...

...What hasn't been commented about quite so often is the inherent humor that Picasso possessed.  Whether subtly or not so subtly, intentionally or unintentionally, there is a distinct tinge of humor underlying some of his essential works.  Perhaps it's his very Zeus on the Mount Olympus of Art stature and the awe that is demanded from people who must kneel before the altar of Picasso that makes this facet of his work go largely unnoticed.  

For example, his series of portraits of his lover and muse Dora Maar seem to chronicle not only Maar's mercurial moods, but also Picasso's equally bipolar regard for her.  There is a perversely humorous arc from muse to "woman in tears" to hideous wailing beast.  In fact, Picasso's regard for Maar takes such an over-the-top downward spiral that if it were put to music, it would sound like a Gun & Roses song.  In Picasso's eyes and merciless hands, Dora Maar devolves from Sweet Child o' Mine to I Used To Love Her (But I Had To Kill Her).  All that's missing is a three-headed Slash playing a Cubist guitar solo at the edge of a windy cliff.

Picasso's sculptures also are as humorous and whimsical as they are inventive.  For example, his She-Goat, like most of the other sculptures in the exhibit, is made entirely of household objects, miscellaneous leftover scrap pieces, and tools.  The goat's head is made of a bicycle seat and handlebar.  

Another piece Tete de Femme (Head of a Woman) is formed by the welding of two colanders with bedspring hair, making it look like the morphing of a Fraggle robot with a Metropolis-era Barbarella.  Much of the fun and awe of viewing Picasso's sculptures is in trying to figure out what mundane objects he transformed into artistic masterpieces.

To quote Picasso again, "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."  Less eloquently put, go see this astonishing exhibit before it's too late.  Its next stop is San Franciso. However, you also can see it once it returns to Paris...and don't forget to laugh.

No comments: