Picasso Sculptures is the third leg of a travelling exhibition in three stages, which began at MoMA in New York, moving to the Musée Picasso in Paris and is now at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. We thought we knew everything there was to know about Picasso, but looking from all kinds of angles at over 80 sculptures echoing some twenty ceramic works also on display is a truly amazing experience. It would be a shame to miss it.
Picasso never trained as a sculptor. Rather, he learnt from fellow artists and craftsmen the techniques he required to create 3D works: iron welding, plaster casting, sheet metal bending, clay throwing, and so on. The exhibition clearly shows that Picasso does not try to explain sculpture. He is not questioning what it means to create a volume. Picasso sculpts like he draws, without premeditation. In his sculptures, the line is as important as in his drawings. For instance, when he welds iron rods, he draws lines in space. When he folds a sheet of metal, again what interests him is the contour created by this flattened material as it takes shape in space. For the artist, the power of his extreme creativity was like the blood running through his veins: vital. Always drawing, painting or sculpting, as if his very life depended on those activities.
In 1956 – 60 years ago – the Palais des Beaux-Arts organised an exhibition focusing on Guernica, which featured the painting itself as well as 60 preparatory drawings. This year in Paris, the exhibition at the Hotel Salé presented the multiple facets of Picasso’s sculpted body of works. In Brussels, we get to see the heart of the artist’s private collection and discover how he produced ceramic pieces considered as sculptures. The exhibition is arranged chronologically and begins with the first of Picasso’s dealers, Ambroise Vollard, and the signed bronzes released by him.
The first sculpture certified by Picasso dates back to 1902. It represents a small seated female figure, Femme assise. Later, the artist carves wood, in rudimentary forms. In Nature morte à la chaise cannée, Picasso tries to merge painting and sculpture, by introducing a mundane element, a piece of oilcloth, into his painting. Created in 1914, the Verre d’absinthe (The Absinthe Glass) is shaped in wax. Six bronze proofs of the “glass” are cast and painted, each fitted with an actual metal spoon, yet each with a slight difference. As a result, Picasso manages to create unique pieces, even as a series.
He teams up with Julio Gonzalez – who teaches him iron welding – to design a commission for a monument to his friend Apollinaire. However, the final project is not completed before the 1950s. Made from welded iron rods, it creates empty volumes contained in a simple black iron outline. Up to the visitors to fit into those matter-less spaces the complexity of their personal interpretations and dreams.
Around 1930, Picasso gives shape to plaster, creating female figures, whether recumbent or standing, or busts and heads inspired by his new muse, Thérèse Walter. During WWII, the artist tries the media of clay and corrugated cardboard. At the time, he is living in Vallauris, renowned for its ceramics industry, and although he does not throw vases himself, as soon as they are off the pottery wheel, he distorts them, shaping them like dancing, female figures, with astonishing ease and imagination. Picasso also likes to assemble eclectic items. For instance, the Man with a Lamb, which is not cast until after the war, dates from his time in Vallauris. So do the famous Tête de taureau, (Bull’s Head) made from a bicycle saddle and handlebars, and La grue, (The Crane) with its tail made from an old shovel.
The exhibition ends with folded papers and sheet metal. We’ve reached the quintessence of Picasso’s sculpture. From a flat, fragile sheet of paper, the artist creates in two or three folds and a couple of strokes of his pencil a piece whose grace, movement and balance are on a par with classical sculptures. These models are later produced in a very large size, using folded sheet metal. Throughout his life, with a mind-blowing talent, particularly in his sculptures, Pablo Picasso has managed to create, convey a message with a few found materials, shape something out of nothing, a figure which will then stand, facing the world.
Palais des Beaux-Arts
23 rue Ravenstein
Until 5 March 2017
Tuesdays – Sundays, from 10:00h to 18:00h, Thursdays until 21:00h