The undefeated master

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Pablo Picasso, Woman with Hat, 1961

It seems appropriate to kick off my blog for 2016 with MOMA’s astounding exhibition covering sixty years of sculpture produced by art history’s unparalleled master – Pablo Picasso. MOMA’s show features 140 magnificent examples of the master’s genius, and I don’t use the word lightly. Picasso was preternaturally prolific. His creative output defies all logic.The exhibited works include Picasso’s very first clay sculpture, a 5 inch tall seated woman, through to his last, the maquette (model) for the 50-foot sculpture that stands as one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks.

First clay sculpture
Seated Woman, 1902
Picasso chicago sculpture
Sculpture for Richard J. Daley Center, 1964

It would be perfectly understandable to expect that out of 140 sculptures on display, there might be some duds. Nope, sorry to disappoint. Not a one. Every single piece – be it delicately or crudely modeled, humorous or deadly serious, classical or cubist – channels an artist who was a true original, a fearless warrior, who put his unique mark on everything he touched. In Picasso’s hands, a bull is no longer the bull we think we know, a goose or an owl or a woman, for that matter, take on a distinctly picasso-esque persona.

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Picasso’s ‘Bull’, a flat sculpture constructed of discarded wood, plywood cutouts, screws and nails
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Note the bull’s framed face into which Picasso carved an enigmatic smile
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A goose with legs made of forks
phallic sculpture
Head of a woman

There are several painted dolls fashioned out of buttons, string, odds and ends that Picasso made for his children. Picasso loved children and he himself possessed a spontaneous, childlike wonder that I believe is one of the reasons his work will always remain fresh and relevant.

childs toy

As playful as Picasso was, he could also be politically subversive and proved himself courageous in the face of fascism. An entire gallery was dedicated to the sculptures he created during the years he lived in Nazi-occupied Paris. Designated a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis, Picasso was not only excluded from exhibiting his work, he was also prohibited from creating any sculptures out of bronze. He defied this order and surreptitiously created a number of  bronze sculptures that portray this repressive period.

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‘Death’s head’ in the foreground and ‘Man with a Lamb’ behind it. The lamb struggles to escape the clutches of its captor.

Picasso sculpted with clay, plaster, metal, bronze, found objects and wooden scraps. He was known to learn the rudiments of diverse sculpting techniques from his peers and once he got the hang of it, he would turn everything he learned on its head, creating new hybrid forms of expression.

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‘Head of a Woman’, painted sheet metal and wire, 1962

There are many famous sculptures in this exhibition but one small, discrete sculpture was particularly meaningful to me in that it helped me glimpse the inner workings of the artist’s mind. Picasso is best known for pioneering  Cubism, the revolutionary visual style that deconstructs an object and visually reassembles it in a manner that attempts to portray different dimensions and angles simultaneously. I always wondered how this came about. What was Picasso’s very first impetus? There, in the exhibition’s first gallery, encased in glass and propped up on a pedestal, I think I may have found my answer.

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Apple, 1909

This small plaster sculpture of an apple, faceted to a point where, were it not for its title ‘Apple’,  one could easily have mistaken it for the rocky ledges and outcroppings typical of the craggy landscape surrounding the small Spanish town where Picasso sculpted this apple. I like to imagine Picasso hiking the rocky cliffs, observing the shadows cast by the sharp, jagged edges and overlaying these same principles onto the smooth, round fruit warming on the window ledge back in his studio…

As an artist, I also took heart from the fact that even Picasso – yes, Picasso – experienced rejection. The third gallery of the sprawling MOMA exhibition was dedicated to sculptural models made by Picasso for a commissioned monument for his deceased friend, the poet Apollinaire. Despite having gone back to the drawing board at least a dozen times, Picasso could never quite please the monument committee and all his ideas were ultimately rejected. I have to admit I did experience a fleeting moment of Schadenfreude…

How many artists out there still consider Picasso an inspiration? Fashion designers Viktor & Rolf have just unveiled their spring collection inspired by Picasso’s sculptures. I’d love to hear from artists and non-artists! The MOMA exhibition continues through February 7, 2016.