Monday, November 05, 2012

Picasso Black and White

"Picasso Black and White," now on at the Guggenheim, is worth every cent of the $22 entrance fee, and more. The exhibition showed the Spanish master deploying the stark colors in every phase of his career. And he did so not only in his nudes, but also in his still-lifes and political works, most famously in "Guernica," represented in the show by two harrowing studies made for the final painting.. By stripping his paintings of color, he wished to display more clearly the anatomy and structure of his work.

This concern for volume answered a question I always had about his investigations into Cubism. For a painter who was so sensuous in his apprehension of the world, Cubism seemed overly analytical and angular. The apparent contradiction is resolved, for me, in the understanding that Picasso's sensuousness is a matter of the handling of volumes, not of fingers running over surfaces, and even less of eyes drinking in the hues of objects. The range of ways in which he perceived the volume of the female head and body is astonishing. It makes Matisse look very conservative.

Unforgettable are "Woman with Flowers Writing," with its spare yet graceful graphic lines, "The Milliner's Workshop," a dancing mosaic, and "Dead Cock and Pot," a very late work, which I read as a meditation on human mortality.

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