It is rare to see an art exhibition devoted to just one year in an artist’s life. Tate Modern did just that in their first ever solo Picasso exhibition – Picasso 1932 Love, Fame, Tragedy.
The majority of the works displayed were created during 1932. In that year Pablo Picasso curated his own retrospective, and, in his own words, he wanted to curate it ‘badly’. The artworks were placed out of chronological order, there were no dates provided either. The Tate exhibition in comparison is very methodical, rooms are organized by months, starting off with January 1932. Such layout allows the visitor to see the artist navigating through different themes and styles over the course of one year. The artworks are supplemented by quotes, documents, photographs from Picasso’s retreat château Boisgeloup and catalogues from the retrospective of 1932.
The exhibition opens with colourful, seemingly happy works. It is easy to be tricked by the bright colours into thinking that these portraits that would do nicely in a living room. Many of these works are filled with sinister or Freudian allusions, such as the painting entitled The Sculptor, painted in the late 1931.
During 1932 Picasso’s marriage with Olga Khokhlova was breaking, largely due to his secret, at the time, relationship with his young muse – Marie-Thérèse Walter. In 1932 Walter was 22 and Picasso was 50.
Most of us would definitely find his extramarital affair and relationship with a much younger woman reprehensible (see also the article by Patrick Steel). Knowledge about the artist’s private life likely affects the overall perception of these works today, but there is more to this exhibition.
For me the most fascinating was the room devoted to the Crucifixion drawings. All black and white, the images are reworkings of Matthias Grünewald’s well-known Isenheim Altarpiece.
The display running along one of the walls has a feel of an animated film in the making. Moving away from the black lines on white paper on the far right, the backgrounds gradually become filled with black ink, while the white figures loose even vague resemblance to the human body. From very stylised but recognizable skeletons, the artist arrived at seemingly random compositions echoing some of Dali’s paintings.
This collection of works all titled Crucifixion can be viewed as individual pieces or, taken together, can be seen as a demonstration of work in progress – the artist experimenting, detaching further and further from reality.
Nearing the end of that year Picasso’s art moved towards more dramatic subjects. His late summer and early autumn beach scenes took a darker twist in December 1932. Contemplating water as potential source of danger, Picasso closed the year with a series of images depicting rescue from drowning.
In the version of The Rescue painted early in 1933 the artist cut the number of figures, leaving only the pair on the right. With more stylized shapes and restrained colours this work anticipates the upcoming darker period in Picasso’s personal life. In 1935 his marriage ended, this personal tragedy was then followed by the Spanish Civil War and the WWII.
Picasso 1932 Love, Fame, Tragedy is on view at Tate Modern from 8 March to 9 September 2018.