Picasso sculptor exhibited for the first time in Spain

View of the exhibition “Picasso Sculptor.  Matter and Body”, at the Picasso Museum, in Malaga (Spain), on May 5, 2023.

Twenty-three years ago, in the summer of 2000, the art historian Werner Spies, then director of the National Museum of Modern Art-Centre Pompidou, achieved a tour de force and an exhibition that made history. It unveiled, for the first time in France, with more than 300 works, the work of sculptor Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). For many, it was a discovery, like the revelation of an unknown continent.

Werner Spies, for his part, had already published, in 1971, the catalog raisonné of this part of Picasso’s work (Picasso’s Sculptures, Clairefontaine) and rejoiced in advance of the nice surprise thus given to the public. Few, in fact, were those who had seen a few examples, shown for the first time in 1966 at the Petit Palais, in Paris, rarer still those who were aware of the article “Picasso sculptor”, published in 1937 in the review Art books by his compatriot and colleague Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942), or the book on his sculpture written in 1949 by his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

It is a much more modest version than that of Werner Spies, with 61 works, presented today by his colleague Carmen Giménez at the Picasso Museum in Malaga, but it is the first to address this subject in Spain. It is also solely devoted to the human figure, which excludes certain emblematic pieces, such as the famous bull’s head made up of a saddle and bicycle handlebars, the Guitara high-relief in cardboard made in 1912, or even this event in the history of art that was the creation, in 1914, of the Glass of absinthea painted bronze where, if the glass is modeled in a cubist vein, the pierced spoon which supports the piece of sugar on which the alcohol was poured is the real object, probably stolen from a bistro in Montmartre.

Limitless imagination

It was the first time that an existing instrument was integrated into a sculpture. To see the version (there are six copies, each painted in a different way) kept by the Malaga museum, it is therefore necessary, because of the theme chosen for the temporary exhibition, to go to the rooms of the permanent collections. The glass of absinthe is revolutionary because, previously, there were two ways of sculpting: by removal, by cutting stone or wood, or by addition, by modeling clay. Picasso and Braque, to a lesser extent, invent a third: do-it-yourself, or assembly, as you wish.

Carmen Giménez’s exhibition, like that of Werner Spies in its time, can nevertheless attract the same criticism: to present sculpture alone is to disregard the permanent dialogue that Picasso maintained between his different practices. Thus, the actual spoon has a precedent, in Picasso’s painting, the Still life with cane chairfrom 1912, on which an oilcloth printed with the caning pattern is pasted and where a rope acts as a frame.

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