Pop Culture Mama – Picasso: the Man, the Myth

Pop Culture Mama – Picasso: the Man, the Myth

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Picasso.Mania exhibit
© Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy, Paris 2015

If you ask your child to name three artists, chances are Pablo Picasso will be one of the three (or “the bald guy in the striped shirt,” as my daughter put it). One of the first artist-celebrities of the modern era, the man is at least as famous as his art. So it is no surprise that he has had a lasting influence on a generation of artists and art lovers.

Picasso’s legacy is the focus of Picasso.Mania, a new exhibit at the Grand Palais through February 29, 2016. The exhibit serves as an overview of Picasso’s career as well as an exploration of how art can be absorbed, digested and transformed into something new. As the show succinctly explains, avant-garde art through the 50’s attempted to push art forward without revisiting the past. “Post-modern” artists were the first to deliberately build upon already existing art, explicitly referencing it in their work. In the case of Picasso, this might mean adopting his influences (like African masks), using part or all of one of his paintings in a new piece, or incorporating iconic images of the artist himself.

African masks at Picasso.Mania exhibit
African masks at Picasso.Mania exhibit.

“Will you keep on painting much longer?”

“Yes, It’s my mania.” – Interview, 11 May 1959. Quoted in Picasso’s Propos sur l’art, Paris, Gallimard, 1998.

Cleverly laid out by the curators, the exhibit alternates between Picasso’s own work (hung in groupings the same way he did in his studio) and the work he inspired. Video also plays a large part in the show. A grid montage designed by director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and art historian Diana Widmaier Picasso (the artist’s granddaughter) shows clips of contemporary artists explaining what Picasso means to them. Another room is devoted to excerpts of films that featured Picasso or his art (including Henri-Georges Clouzot’s fantastic documentary “The Mystery of Picasso”.)
Minotaur at Picasso.Mania exhibit
Minotaur by Pablo Picasso © Succession Picasso 2015 / Private Collection / photo Patrick Goetelen

For younger children, it’s a good introduction to cubism, or as my son described it, “the pictures of women with flat, messed-up faces.”

The other periods of his long and rich career are not quite so well represented, but the show will hopefully give them the itch to check out more. (Luckily Paris does not lack for Picassos). Parents, be aware that the last two rooms do contain some graphic images. Picasso’s erotic drawings are fairly tame and easily hurried by, but George Condo’s wall of large-scale nudes in sexually explicit positions are more potentially shocking. So if you or your child are sensitive, when you reach the museum’s written warning, it may be time to turn back.

Picasso.Mania exhibit
Picasso, 2000, Private collection © Chéri Samba

Throughout the exhibit, older children will be able to appreciate how the other artists play with Picasso’s work, such as David Hockney’s interpretation of cubism using Polaroids or Martin Kippenberger’s use of the famous photo of Picasso standing outside his Cannes villa in over-sized underpants. Picasso’s later work, with its bright colors, narrative expression and continual reinvention, particularly resonated with pop artists and street artists, making him as relevant as ever.

There may come a time when Picasso will only be recognized as that guy in the car ads (yes, he even has a car named after him!) But hopefully exhibits like this will keep popping up to remind us that as strong as his personal image is, he was first and foremost a genius of an artist whose work continues to impress and inspire.

Picasso.Mania exhibit
Affiche Rmn-Grand Palais, Paris 2015 / © Gjon Mili/The LIFE Premium Collection/© Getty Images Succession Picasso 201
Elizabeth Brahy
Elizabeth Brahy is a native of Los Angeles, where she worked for many years in film development. After moving to Paris 20 years ago, Elizabeth worked in the film and television industries before becoming a freelance writer and editor. An admitted pop culture nerd, she loves comedy podcasts, YA books and American television (as well as art museums and the ballet). Elizabeth is a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators France, and co-hosts the podcast "Alex & Mom vs The World." You can follow her on twitter at @expat_eliz

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