Madison Ave New York
Picasso, Welcome to America
June 15 – September 27, 2023
Janet Taylor Pickett
Every artist since the early 20th century has been influenced by Pablo Picasso. The protean painter/ sculptor/ printmaker/ ceramicist helped define what “modern” art once was – and is still becoming. In 1939, MoMA’s staff was gathering 300 works by the world’s “most famous living artist” (according to the museum’s press release) for Picasso: Forty Years of His Art. A centerpiece of the exhibit was Guernica, his grisaille mural decrying the destruction of the small Basque town by Nazi bombers, in 1937.
Along with Michelangelo and Rembrandt, the name Picasso (1881-1973) has become a synonym – a cliché, even – for “artist.” But none of the artists in Picasso, Welcome to America see the Spanish-born titan as an old hat. Instead, these ten Americans find in the European trailblazer constant inspiration and ongoing challenge. Zhang Hongtu imagines Chairman Mao exposed by glaring illumination similar to the all-seeing lantern in Guernica. Jaye Moon also reimagines Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece, in When Bob Dylan Meets Picasso, Guernica – using Lego bricks in Braille rather than paint.
The bodies and masks in another Picasso touchstone, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), come under scrutiny from Eileen Foti and André Raffray through substitution and homage. Billy Copley finds masks in unlikely surroundings, while Janet Taylor Pickett moves effigies aside to place her powerful female figure at center stage. Deborah Buck turns Picasso’s infamously harsh male gaze around, painting surreal figures that might be asking, “Who’s crying now?” In Weary of Treading the Earth, from 1945, Romare Bearden, working in watercolor and ink rather than his later signature collage, energizes cubist space with a circus-like palette. R.C. Baker riffs beyond Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods through primary-colored aluminum printing plates. Björn Meyer-Ebrecht’s dynamic wood and enamel sculpture strips the figure to cubist angles and voids, while Brandon Ballengée searches for animals that, like Picasso’s minotaurs, are no longer with us. Original works by Pablo Picasso will also be on view, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death.
All of the artists in this exhibition have been influenced by Picasso’s experiments with form and perspective – his breaking of traditional and academic rules. Some of the work here also comments on his darker side, while other pieces engage with the social and political aspects of Picasso’s art. Ultimately, these ten contemporary artists in Picasso, Welcome to America appreciate the formal and aesthetic complexity of a constant innovator. This great artist was effectively barred from ever visiting the United States because he was a member of the French Communist Party. But the joke was on the Feds – Picasso has been in America all along.