In case you missed David Brooks’ touching op-ed in the Sunday Times, “When Beauty Strikes”, you may want to dig it up. He puts the pursuit of beauty in the most noble and endearing terms, and, since you have made the time to read my tripe, I know you’ll appreciate his far more eloquent words. It’s a short but lovely essay, and anything I could add would just be gilding the lily. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/opinion/when-beauty-strikes.html?emc=edit_th_20160115&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=49782313.
I suppose it’s time to weigh in on the newly reopened Picasso Museum Paris. Not that it needs it—it truly speaks for itself. But opinions vary, and it should come as no surprise that the museum has its detractors, despite the fact that it has more Picassos and has more of them on view than any other place on earth. Weirdly, that doesn’t seem to stop some people. For example, see the scathing review by Holland Cotter in the NY Times of Oct. 27, 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/arts/design/the-picasso-museum-reopens-in-paris.html?_r=0). Tell you what—I’ll spare you and just paste one of his choicest rants:
“All together, you can learn a tremendous amount about him in the Picasso Museum show, not least that he could be a truly terrible artist. Maybe the biggest revelation, though, comes on the top floor, when you catch your first glimpse of a Cézanne landscape Picasso once owned, and instantly sense what’s been missing from the two floors below: focus, concentration, a point of repose, warmth like a light in a tunnel, a fire in a hearth, a vigil lamp in a church. The comparison of Cézanne to Picasso we see here is of painter to cartoonist, of steady walker to competition dancer. It’s hard even to imagine Picasso painting landscapes — though he did; there’s one nearby — because, judging by this jumpy show, he doesn’t know how to be quiet, to sit there, stop spewing, do nothing, look long.”
You’d think the Times, of all rags, wouldn’t have a hard time finding a writer who understands his subject, but never mind. At the time, I posted a comment on NYTimes.com in response, sight unseen. Now that I have seen the exhibit, naturally I have a bit more to say. But I’ll start by pasting my original riposte to Cotter:
I sympathize with the author’s desire to view the Picassos in chronological order. But that was not Picasso’s way. In his first museum retrospective in Basel in1932, he hung the exhibit himself and juxtaposed works of dissimilar periods and styles. Ms. Baldassari [the since fired curator], undoubtedly aware of this exhibit and in service of her exhibit’s theme, chose to do the same.
Picasso was not one to make our viewing simple. His art is chockfull of puzzles, allusions, and visual puns. He would be pleased, if the author’s description is accurate, that the visitors must wander about a seemingly disorganized exhibit, dead ends and all. I have always found that the museum’s choppy viewing spaces, amid its period architecture, enhance the intimacy and charm of the experience.
Rather than praise even a single Picasso, the author’s principal impression of the exhibit is that Picasso “could be a truly terrible artist.” Perhaps such irreverence is to be expected from someone who does not appreciate Picasso, much less his preeminence in the pantheon of art. A book-length equivalent of such a lack of understanding is Arianna Huffington’s screed. I am certainly not one for censorship, but the author makes the case that sacrilege should perhaps be judiciously edited from the usually responsible pages of the storied NY Times. Personally, I can hardly wait to arrive in Paris and bask in the glory of so many masterpieces, in whatever order.
Now, dear reader, fast forward a few months, to the day when my family stormed the museum, and then hold up for a moment so I can gush. Actually, there’s no need to belabor the point—simply put, there are twice as many Picassos on view than before. Need anything more be said? Four hundred works of art, a far larger permanent exhibit of Picassos than has ever existed. There were so many great Picassos on view, so many of them your faves and mine, that by the end, even my ability to take in yet another Picasso was starting to reach capacity. (But please don’t repeat this last to anyone—I have a reputation to uphold!)
As is well known, a successful museum’s bottleneck is not funding, it’s space.
The Musée Picasso has about 5000 Picassos, last I read. As far as I’m concerned, the only significant gauge of the success of the renovation is that many more of them are now on view. Any other criteria pale by comparison. So someone made the executive decision of reframing the paintings in a contemporary way (basically centering the raw canvas within a shallow white box). The effect was clean and simple and unobtrusive, better than a distracting frame of an ill-framed painting. I would have preferred leaving the old antique gilt frames intact, but whatever. Framing actually matters a lot to me, but really, fine art is not about the packaging.
As for the order of the artworks, or the lack of it, it could have been totally random, as far as I was concerned—I was so rapt up in devouring each individual piece that the order they appeared hardly mattered. Though whenever I actually noticed the groupings themselves, they seemed well-conceived. I can certainly understand that a Picasso novice might well prefer a chronological display in order to make sense of this 8-decade career. But Picasso hadn’t intended his art to be easy—he liked making his viewers work. He might have come up with a different arrangement if he were once again the guest curator, but I should think he would have graciously approved of Anne Baldassari’s exhibit. On the other hand, I don’t suppose he would have liked the new frames. Though who knows? That quintessentially modern artist might well have kept up with the times better than I….
What is it with the art market’s color fixation? Yes, I know, every room needs a bit of color. But does that justify throwing good money after bad colorful art? And in a down market, no less. Take the following small (34.9 x 27.9 cm, 13 ¾ x 11”) watercolor, the 1906 Coupe, cruche et boîte à lait:
The Sotheby’s auction catalogue described it as “a seminal expression of the artist’s genius.” I think it’s more like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Though the auction cataloguer did not allude to this, one could place this still life in the context of Picasso’s explorations in his Cezannian proto-cubist phase. But even if so, it is only of academic interest. It is not a painting that holds its own. Rather, it assumes significance only by relation to a contemporaneous body of work. Yet it exceeded the auction estimate of $220-280,000 US to sell for $452,000 (premium included). I can see no reason why it commanded such a price apart from the fact we Picasso collectors are starved for color. Otherwise, I just don’t get it.
Especially when you contrast that sale with the following bought-in lot at Christie’s two days later, the 1970 Nu debout et nu assis:
Though slightly smaller and by no means one of the best late Picasso drawings, it is much more interesting, not to mention“prettier”, than the above watercolor. Its pre-auction estimate of $400-600,000 seemed high, especially this season, but the buyer of the watercolor above in all likelihood could have had it for the same price. Go figure….
I suppose the discrepancy could be explained by the absence of “efficiency” in the art market. Market efficiency in other commercial sectors, notably securities and real estate, has been much debated over the years. With art, however, there’s little question.
Now that everyone else has opined about the last auction round, having waited my turn, I can now get in the last word. The art world seems rather pleased with itself in view of the continued price escalation, with no end in sight. Yet the intelligence of the market is still underappreciated. It’s time, it seems to me, that buyers be given their due. And of course I’m just talking about buyers of Picassos, since those are the only works I study in depth. Commentary about the intelligence of the art market in general has not been quite so favorable. For example, note the opening line of Souren Melikian’s essay: “The May sales demonstrated how unpredictable buying patterns have become. With the nature of the work now irrelevant, the artist’s name and fame alone matter.” (Art + Auction, July 2007, pp. 41-46) That may be true in general, but the Picasso market seems different. If Picasso was the intellectual’s artist, perhaps his presumably intellectual collectors have a leg up.
The first thing one notices about the Picassos in the spring season is the abundance of great works. At a second glance, the sales were also particularly illustrative of another matter, which I found quite encouraging. Much like real estate, art is all too often valued by the square foot. But, regardless of what my wife may think, size is overrated. Sure, décor matters, and a miniature will not command a large space. But a vibrant work of art with a bold design capable of resolution from across the room will “hold the wall”, even if it’s small. The Picasso market, which seems to be getting smarter all the time, is finally coming around to this realization. Just look at the Picasso paintings of but one recent auction, Sotheby’s NY Evening Sale, May 8, 2007:
1. Tête d’arlequin, 1905, lot 18, oil on panel, 35 cm (13 ¾”), a wonderful rose period portrait, sold for $15,160,000 (with premium).
2. Famille d’arlequin, 1905, lot 21, gouache and ink on card, 29.5 cm (11 5/8”) sold for $9,840,000.
3. Tête de fernande, 1906, lot 24, an oil and gouache on canvas, 37.5 cm (14 ¾”), sold for $6,760,000.
4. Homme à la pipe assis dans un fauteuil, 1916, 32 cm (12 5/8”), an oil and gouache on paper laid down on canvas, sold for $4,744,000.
5. Femme nue, assise contre une draperie, 1922, 24 cm (9 ½”), lot 17 a sculptural woman in oil on panel, sold for $2,392,000.
The only absurdity in these sales, as far as I’m concerned, is number 2 above, which admittedly featured an iconic early Picasso theme and, though colorful and well designed, was poorly drawn, being rather sketchy. It goes to show that the Picasso market, in my opinion, still has a thing or two to learn. In this case, that color isn’t everything. Sure, color matters, but certainly not at the expense of design and graphic quality.
Interestingly, Melikian’s opinion was that the Picassos were relative bargains:
“Throughout the session, money was spent without much discrimination between the great and the merely good. The most astonishing example of this was provided by the contrasting prices fetched within 10 minutes by one of Picasso’s greatest early works and an interesting but forgettable street scene by Lyonel Feininger.
“Picasso’s Tête d’Arlequin, painted in 1905 [number 1 above], ranks among the last major masterpieces of European psychological portraiture. Here the Paris school artist translates the lessons he assimilated from the Old Masters into the idiom of modern art. Although the brushwork is broad, giving precedence to light and shadow over details, the psychological probing is as profound as in any work from past centuries. The estimate, $14 million to $18 million, was steep but not mad for a picture bound to end up someday in one of the world’s leading museums. However, the Picasso did not even match the lower end of its estimate, selling for $13.5 million plus the $1.7 million premium. Whoever won the bidding contest made the cleverest buy of the week.
“Now consider the very different fate of the Feininger, four lots down. Jesuiten III (Jesuits III), painted in 1915, lacks the punch of this artist’s best work. It is little more than a genre scene in a Mannerist style that is unusual for its author. [Mannerist? Maybe, but it also looks like a somewhat derivative, quasi-cubist riff to me.] This did not stop it from establishing a record for the artist, at $23.3 million. The ratio between the prices for the Feininger and the Picasso should have been 1 to 4. Instead, it was roughly 1.5 to 1.”
It didn’t hurt the Feininger’s sale, of course, that it was featured on the front cover of the auction catalogue. Notice, however, to Melikian’s credit, that he didn’t mention the vastly different sizes of these two works. The Feininger measured 75 x 60 cm, contrasting with the Picasso’s 35 x 26.5 cm. In so doing, he seems to have echoed the wisdom of the Picasso market today: size doesn’t matter, at least by comparison to the overall beauty of the art and its importance in the artist’s oeuvre.
Yesterday Casey and I attended a half-day symposium at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art about its current exhibition, “Picasso’s Greatest Print: The Minotauromachy in All Its States”. The exhibit was small but choice: it included an impression of each of the seven states of this wonderful etching, all but the final state of which are exceedingly rare (there are but two of each in existence) plus one of the two hand-colored proofs of the final state. The collection comes from an anonymous private collection on long-term loan to the Paris Musée Picasso, supplementing the museum’s collection of the other known impression of six of the seven states and of its colored proof.
The exhibit was nice of course, and there was also a handful of supporting actors from The Vollard Suite, but the lectures were especially stimulating. Such tremendous erudition that seven scholars brought to bear on a single print for the better part of a day—we loved it!
Interestingly, there seemed to be a consensus that the addition of color not only did not improve upon the print but actually detracted from it.
I have so little to add to such thorough scholarship, but I did rise to the occasion in the Q & A by (lightheartedly) challenging the assumption indicated in the title, as well as the conventional wisdom, that this really is the Master’s finest print. I admitted from the outset that mine is a minor point in the scheme of things, not nearly as enlightening as the investigation into the enigmatic meanings of this masterpiece that the speakers had elaborated. Still, from the point of view of collectors such as you and me, it is not a trivial issue. We are especially mindful of how art historians and others have arranged the hierarchy of his oeuvre. Not only do we find it interesting but also important for us as collectors, because that hierarchy influences how the market values Picasso’s prints, and we are the ones in the trenches who end up paying the price.
The entire afternoon was devoted to exploring the multilayered meanings of La Minotauromachie and their interrelations with Picasso’s oeuvre in general. Rather than belabor the fine points the art historians made, I would refer you instead to the invaluable treatise, Myth and Metamorphosis: Picasso’s Classical Prints of the 1930s, by Lisa Florman, one of the speakers. It would provide you with an excellent understanding of much of what was said. In short, however, it became abundantly clear that, at least in the minds of these pundits, the reason they consider it his masterpiece is its incredible thematic complexity.
Another criterion that the pundits mentioned is the importance of this print in the context of the artist’s oeuvre and its central place within it. La Minotauromachie can be viewed as the culmination of The Vollard Suite, Picasso’s most famous print series, and of other related prints of the preceding two to three years, much as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the culmination of some six hundred earlier works which led up to it.
Somehow I fail to buy the idea that the marketplace, as opposed to the scholars, values La M. because of its thematic complexity, much less its place in Picasso’s oeuvre. I don’t mean to be condescending here, but unlike the pundits, I’m sure that collectors don’t even begin to appreciate the many enigmatic meanings of the etching. Or at least I certainly didn’t before I first read Florman. So it’s not that.
This print, however, is complex not only thematically but also graphically. In the Q & A, the pundits readily agreed with me that its graphic complexity is another one of the contributing reasons for this print’s preeminence. La Minotauromachie is clearly the most intricate, and also for that matter one of the most sizable of Picasso’s prints, and it presumably required the most man-hours to make.
A pet peeve of mine is that Picasso’s collectors and scholars alike do tend to value graphically complex pieces over simple ones. This always reminds me pleasantly of my dear father, a traditional Old-World Jew and a prince of a man, who was in the crystal glassware business. For him, a piece of crystal was nothing if it lacked a lot of carving. And those pieces which had none at all were the worst offenders. He was so surprised, then, by the turn of events when smooth glassware came into vogue. But I have always found this distinction no more defensible for art than for tableware.
We must also allow that the sheer size of La Minotauromachie plays significantly into its valuation, however simplistically. Art, like real estate, is valued according to its square footage. Not that size isn’t important—a great work of art would generally become all the more imposing by dint of its monumentality. But, clearly, size alone (much like the presence or absence of the Master’s signature) does not great art make. And one hardly needs to list the many diminutive Picasso paintings, drawings, and prints that number among his all-time greatest.
The extent to which La Minotauromachie’s value is the result of the intricacy of its design is, in a sense, unfortunate. We certainly don’t need Picasso for detailed canvases or coppers—traditional art was already rife with them long before his birth. On the contrary, one of Picasso’s pivotal innovations was his economy of brushstroke and line, which did not at all diminish and, in a true measure of his genius, even enhanced the emotional evocativeness of his results. Today, in the wake of minimalism and other trends, it is no great shakes to encounter art with few shapes and forms. Picasso’s genius was not only that he introduced such reductionism, but also that he all the more was able to infuse these spare images with such emotional intensity.
Because economy of line and graphic complexity are natural opposites and cannot coexist, the valuation of economy of line in a work must neutralize its simultaneous valuation along the criterion of complexity. In other words, one can value a piece with only one of these criteria at a time.
There’s a certain amount of herd mentality in the print world. The hierarchy of Picasso’s print prices was set long ago—so long, it seems, that it has long since fossilized—and it would seemingly take a sea change to alter it. The recent price ascendancy of late Picasso is thankfully an example of just such a sea change, but it has been a long time in the making, it’s still in progress, and it has a long way to go, in my opinion, before it’s done.
There are other criteria that collectors and art lovers in general use that certainly don’t escape the scholars’ attention, but, I would argue, are not nearly as important to them, as they are to us, in their valuations. These chiefly are the beauty, graphic mastery, and poignancy of the work of art. I would further submit that if these were the primary criteria in judging Picasso’s greatest print, La M. would not come out on top, at least in the minds of many Picasso lovers and collectors. It might be included in one’s short list of the top 10, or not. But that list, in my opinion, ought to include works such as Le Repas Frugal (Bloch 1), the Blind Minotaur aquatint (Bloch 225), La Femme qui Pleure, I (Bloch 1333), Torse de Femme (L’Egyptienne; Bloch 746), and other favorites. I’d add certain small prints to my short list with which few would agree, by the way, such as Tête de Femme de Profil (Bloch 6), Tête de Femme (Bloch 256) or Contrée (Bloch 362), but that’s just me. Speaking of this Blind Minotaur, however (and there are four such prints in all, so let’s be clear we’re talking about the best of them, the last of the series), consider that the figures in this masterpiece are much better executed than in La M. The sightless Minotaur himself is much more expertly depicted and conveys his anguish so much more poignantly and beautifully than his sighted portrayal in La M. The other figures in the Blind Minotaur are also better. I’m not especially fond of the female torero in La M, with her crooked, thin nose and tight lips, not at all a flattering portrait of Marie-Thérèse, to whom some of the scholars attribute the subject. The young girl of La M. is nice, but the depiction of Marie-Thérèse in the Blind Minotaur is just as nice and is more stylistically interesting.
After the conference, LACMA’s chief curator of prints and drawings, the esteemed Kevin Salatino, did allow that he and his colleagues had in fact struggled with the title of the exhibit, but “Picasso’s Second Greatest Print” would not have gone over very big. True, of course. And funny. But by now, those of you who have bothered to read my tripe to any extent would know that your prime directive is to seek beauty and value, and not to be deterred, and indeed to be encouraged, when your conclusions do not reflect the conventional wisdom.
As we know, Picasso was the most prolific artist of all time, and also the artist with by far and away the largest number of styles. But an observation that has not been much addressed is that he also portrayed a truly vast number of different themes. More often than not, the themes he portrayed tended toward the mundane, and, in so doing it he turned the quotidian into the sublime. It’s amusing to reflect that the most high-brow artist of our times reveled in low-brow scenes. Sure, there was the occasional series of musketeers and nobility. But most subjects tended toward the everyday and everyman. Picasso is definitely by, of, and for the masses. A review of his oeuvre reminds us that life is comprised of the little things, and that appreciating the little things in life restores our sense of harmony and balance.
His panoply of images is breathtakingly large: Cavorting and copulating, pissing, picking one’s foot, and picking one’s nose, holding an insect, seated with one’s dog, killing a chicken, doves, fish, birds, and land animals and plants of all types, landscapes, seascapes, tables (see Le Guéridon for a related discussion at http://ledorfineart.com/1920_Le_Gueridon.html), chairs, fruit, flowers, flowers with anthropomorphized genitalia, smokers, the artist’s studio, portraits of friends, acquaintances, collectors, dealers. Bullfights, the circus, harlequin, blue-collar work: fishing, collecting water at the spring, sleeping, dreaming, kissing, crying, embracing, violence, war. And of course his standard fare, the famous series of nudes, nudes, and more nudes, and also the artist and his model, bathers, the minotaur, centaur, and faun. The list at first glance is seemingly endless.
Toward the end of his life, Picasso created a reprise of his career in several etchings, a curtain call in which many of his actors have come out to take a bow (Ecce Homo d’Apres Rembrandt, Bloch 1865, see illustration below).
More than just turning water into wine, by portraying every-day life in so many beautiful and inventive ways, Picasso reminded us in so doing that the water is the wine.
I’ve got a bad habit of going way out on a limb in advising my current and prospective clients what art to buy and what to avoid. It’s a time-consuming process, yet I only occasionally succeed in my efforts to alter anyone’s tastes or collecting proclivities. And lately I’ve begun questioning whether or not I should even bother, given the low likelihood of success and the high likelihood of (unintentionally) offending. The following is a classic example of how such a line of reasoning crashed and burned. It regards a discussion I fell into about a couple of prints a collector had purchased years ago from Picasso’s illustrated book La Tauromaquia (1959, Bloch 950-976). I have a strong distaste for these prints and decided to ask a number of pointed questions to the collector, thinking naively that he couldn’t possibly answer them to his own satisfaction. Boy, was I surprised. Here’s his answer. Despite its length, I’ve chosen not to shorten it so as not to weaken its arguments. I still resist the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, unless I’m the beholder, that is, but so it goes:
Dear Kobi, When we spoke several nights ago I was familiar with that part of your inventory that was pictured in your web site, and I simply wanted to know what pieces you might select if you were going to purchase just one original signed Picasso as your first signed Picasso purchase, because that is something I am interested in doing. I am not however quite ready to make a decision since I am still trying to decide on what I really like, and what I might want to own. When I take my time and have the opportunity to make my own decisions I generally like what I purchase more after I bring it home than prior to purchasing it. When I rush into something because someone is trying to sell me something or I am getting external pressure to purchase something I am frequently disappointed. On numerous occasions I have purchased something with a guarantee allowing me to return the item after getting it home if it did not exceed my expectations. In almost 100% of the instances when I have done this I have returned the item, because of something I did not like. You did not offend me by telling me what you said the other night, but you did come across as more as a salesman than an art dealer with your response. I am sure you have sound reasoning in your own mind for how you responded to my inquiry, but it was simply not what I was expecting or anticipating from you. I hope that this opinion does not offend you, but your line of questioning asking me what I might be looking for seemed to be very close to a textbook Dale Carnegie sales pitch which surprised me. If I knew what I was looking for I would simply buy it or realize it was more than I was able to or willing to spend. I am still formulating my tastes in certain art (including Picasso’s) and my tastes tend to expand and grow the more I learn. I was hoping to possibly learn more than I did from you. I did appreciate much of what you said and as I told you on the phone I do enjoy reading many of your write ups on your art pieces in your web site, because they give me a greater appreciation for the art itself (the more I understand and learn about a subject the more I tend to appreciate it). Hearing what you have to say and hearing your opinions about Picasso’s works are more valuable to me than your trying to figure out what I might like or not like. I do realize that my likes and tastes are expanding the more I learn about art. I would still like to know what you would buy for your first signed Picasso print if you did not already own one.
I fully agree with what you said that one of your central duties as an art dealer should be to advise clients about their prospective acquisitions regardless if they like hearing what you have to say or not. I did however get the feeling that if you really knew exactly what I was looking for you might have more of a bias to tell me what you thought I wanted to hear instead of what you really felt. I prefer to hear what you really feel regardless of if it agrees with my tastes and opinions or not. I realize that I am still formulating my opinions of what I like and what I don’t like regarding Picasso’s works, and I simply wanted to know what you thought was the best values for a signed Picasso from the pieces you have pictured in your web site. What I heard from you was that everything you had was a great value, which may be true, but I would imagine that some pieces are a better value than other pieces To give you some idea of my background concerning art I have traveled extensively in my lifetime and have been to many of the major art museums throughout the world on numerous occasions, but I did not really start to gain an appreciation for serious art until 1-2 years ago. Until recently (less than one year ago I had never seen a Picasso that I would even consider owning, and I have walked by Picasso museums in Paris and Malaga in recent years without having any interest to pay the nominal fee to enter. Several years ago we fell in love with several Chagall pieces and we now own seven. We also love Calder and we own two. We like a lot of what Dali did and hate much of what he did, but our biggest fear was the number of fraudulent pieces especially in the later half of the 20th century. We have met several close personal friends of Dali that knew very well him when he was alive, and we have had access and confidence to what we believe to be authentic works of Dali and we do now own two pieces from the Argillet collection which we purchased directly from Christine Argillet who now controls all of the art that Dali left to her father when Dali died. Christine is the curator of the Musee du Surrealisme in Melon, France which is the permanent home of many of the most important Dali works not found in the Dali Museum in Figueras Spain. She knew Dali very well, and almost grew up as a daughter to Dali, because of the relationship between her father and Salvadore Dali. Although they did not speak for many years prior to Dali’s death Pierre Argillet was one of Dali’s closest friends and he had collaborated on almost 200 original prints with Dali and ended up inheriting Dali’s castle and most of his private collection upon Dali’d death. Prior to his death Pierre Argillet already had the world’s largest collection of Dali’s etchings which are now owned by Christine and her brother.
I did not like any of Miro’s or Picasso’s works until recently and now I like many of both of theirs. Several pieces from Miro’s Ubu Roi series I am particularly fond of and the first Picasso that I really fell in love with was “The Raising of the Bulls” from Picasso’s La Tauromaquia suite [Bloch 950-976]. We currently have one signed Miro, and three unsigned Picasso’s all from the La Tauromaquia suite. We also own “La Girafe en feu” from Dali’s Tauromachie Surrealist Suite published by Pierre Argillet as a tribute to Picasso’s La Teuromaquia suite.
I understand that you do not care for La Tauromaquia and that is OK as I am certain that I do not care for a whole lot of what you like either. That is not to say that I don’t value or respect your opinion as I expect that you know far more about Picasso and about art in general than I do or more than I probably ever will know. Here are some of my reasons for liking and owning La Tauromaquia:
First several prints from the La Tauromaquia suite were the first Picasso works that I ever liked and I feel it is important to buy art that you like or art that you really love. I do love the La Tauromaquia suite. In addition to liking it so much, we do travel to Europe about twice a year and I have been to Spain more than a handful of times for up to two weeks at a time. I am not particularly fond of bullfights I n Spain myself, but I know how important they are to the culture of the Spanish people and how central they are located to many of the older towns and villages throughout Spain. Many years ago I had car trouble in a small village and met a young man who helped me out. He was nineteen years old and barely stood five feet tall but he happened to be a bull fighter appropriately named “The Little Giant”. He proudly showed the many scares all over his chest from getting gored, and he supported his entire family of 11 brothers and sisters and two parents who all lived in a one bedroom house where everyone except for his parents slept on the floor. Posters of “The Little Giant” proudly hung on the walls throughout the small casita they all lived in. I spent two nights living in this casita while Pepe’s cousin repaired my car and I ate mouse stew with the entire family one evening which was a special meal they would prepare when important guests stayed or visited with them. Most of the children in Spain dream of becoming a famous bull fighter like “The Little Giant” in order to become famous and also become wealthy enough to support their entire families. In the US kids similarly dream of becoming rock stars, professional sports figures or models to achieve fame and fortune, but in Picasso’s world bullfighting was number one. This had to be an important part of Picasso’s life experience when he was growing up as a young child. So much of his art whether it be his etchings, his lithographs, his ceramics, his linocuts etc. reflect his attention to this obvious significant part of his life experience reflecting the importance of bull fighting within the Spanish culture. This was Picasso’s heritage. This was one of the most important events that occured in the world that he grew up in.
In professional basketball we have the NBA and a commissioner to write and enforce the rules that everyone ends up playing by, in golf we have the PGA, in football we have the NFL, in baseball we have the National League and American League etc., and in Spain “La Termaquia” was the bible for everything to do with bullfighting starting with the proper the raising of the bulls, to the type of arena itself, to the parade of matadors, to the actual bullfight itself, to the killing and removal of the bull. This was recorded in literature and also in art and although Goya paid tribute to this important literary work with more detailed etchings of famous bullfighters and styles or techniques used in his day, it was Picasso who captured the essence of this great and most important literary writing by putting it into simple pictures for everyone to understand and appreciate. Just as in early Christian times cathedrals had stained glass windows portraying the essence of the most important stories and graphic scenes from Bible for all of the parishioners to follow, the Russian Orthodox Church had icons, which are important works of art today, and Picasso immortalized “La Tauromaquia” with his suite by the same name. Just as Picasso paid tribute to LaTauromaquia itself and also to Goya’s earlier works, Dali paid tribute to Picasso with his Tauromachie Surrealist Suite published by Pierre Argillet as La Tauromaquis was considered to be one of Picasso’s most important works according to both Dali and Argillet. As you must certainly realize Dali and Picasso were once very close friends and after Picasso paid for Dali to come to America at the start of WWII Dali made the mistake of publicly embarrassing Picasso by telling the press that Picasso would probably want to be paid back by Dali and when word of this got back to Picasso he never spoke to Dali again. Dali’s Tauromachie Surrealist Suite was a tribute to Picasso intended to be an apology for how Dali abused Picasso’s generosity when he paid his way to the United States when Dali couldn’t afford to do that for himself.
These are some of the reasons why I think the series is so important and so meaningful to me personally. I think the people that knew Picasso closely (such as Dali and Pierre Argillet) and the people that understand the culture that Picasso lived so much of his life in can recognize the importance of this series itself more than just those that examine it as simply art and overlook the importance or significance of subject matter itself. I have heard before that it takes a genius to make everyone understand a single thought or subject and when it comes to La Tauromaquia nobody made this most understandable than the “Genius of Picasso” itself. The simplicity, the completeness, and the importance to the Spanish culture attached to this series is what comes across as being so meaningful and consequently why La Tauromaquia is what first turned me on to Picasso.
When I ask myself your questions:
(1) Did the artist portray the subject well? I would have to say, yes — because no body ever did it more complete job of illustrating the subject matter itself including Goya.
(2) Could anyone have done it, or did it require particular skill, creativity, and originality. There is no doubt in my mind that some other people could have done the same thing, but not with the same impact and certainly not everyone or anyone. Goya did it and his rendition certainly had more detail and because of that one could easily make the case that Goya’s rendition took more skill but it did not portray the subject matter nearly as well and it was certainly far less meaningful than what Picasso achieved later on. Dali’s rendition was without a doubt more creative but it was clearly a copy a la Dali, and I did already admit that other people could have done the same thing and others certainly did, but the fact that Picasso did La Tauromaquia is what makes it so significant in my opinion. This series by Picasso is the greatest reflection, of the greatest writing, on the greatest example of Spanish Culture, by the greatest Spanish artist, and perhaps the greatest artist in the world of all time. That combination of elements is what makes this series by Picasso so significant and meaningful.
(3) Is it just a series of sketches, or finished, accomplished works of art? I’m not really too sure how to answer this question, and it is probably somewhere in-between but there are so many other great works of art that are even less finished or accomplished so my opinion in this case may not be that significant.
(4) How could he have improved upon them? From my point of view and understanding of the
meaning of La Tauromaquia, Picasso couldn’t have improved on the subject or improved on his rendition of the text itself — he did exactly what he intended to do and La Tauromaqauia is a most complete illustration of the subject matter.
I have heard on several occasions that there are only three works of art in the world today that the art world generally agrees won’t ever go up for sale, but if they did they would be the only three works of art to sell for $1 Billion or more. These three paintings are “The Night Watch”, the “Mona Lisa”, and “Guernica”. I have seen all three of these pieces reproduced by other artists and they are difficult to distinguish from the originals which I have also seen so I guess I would have to say that there are other people that could probably do any work of art, certainly there are many artists that make a living copying other works of art just are there are 100’s and probably 1000’s of Elvis impersonators some that sound better than Elvis ever did himself. The other night we both agreed that Picasso’s simple nude that I believe was entitled “La Derriere” [Bloch 125; close enough””but it’s title is actually Fragment de Corps de Femme] was a great piece and you called it the best in the entire series by Picasso, and you considered it a great piece of art.
I also think it is a great piece of art so we clearly agree on some art being great and appealing to both of our tastes. When I ask myself the same questions I would have to say that almost anyone could have done this — and even I could probably learn to copy it myself given enough time. When I ask myself was this just a sketch or a finished accomplished work of art, it would be difficult for me to argue it was really much more than a sketch, but personally the simplicity of the piece itself is what makes that piece so magnificent in my opinion. If my next door neighbor did it I might like it but I would clearly not be that impressed, but since Picasso did it the piece is a finished accomplished work of art in my opinion if that makes any sense to you. I’m not sure that I am correct with this assessment, but that is what I think.
I am sorry that I rambled on so much with my answer to your question, but I did not have time to make my answer more concise. Think about it, if I could have reduced all that I told you into eight simple lines like Picasso did with “La Derriere” I could have created a masterpiece. When Picasso reduced the literary works of La Tauromaquia into a series of simple etchings he captured the essential fundamentals of the rules and ceremonial rituals to be included in the sport of bullfighting throughout Spain for every citizen to completely understand. This completed set of work serves as icons for the national sport of bullfighting in Spain. Picasso created a finished and accomplished works of art for the masses of the people in Spain to follow. Next to Chagall’s Bible series I believe that La Tauromaquia is one of the finest series of etchings ever created. For what it is worth, that is my answer. -Jerry T
Dear Kobi, That was a very windy discussion on the merits of Art, especially the Picasso still life [in reference to the discussion of Le Guéridon (The Pedestal Table) in Chapter 3, “The Customer is Always ________ (Fill in the blank)” and why Doron didn’t get off to it]. There are two schools of thought in art appreciation and analysis. One states that art is created and the creator is the real artist and innovator. We merely analyze and appreciate it to the best of our abilities. The more we know, the greater is our experience; the more brilliant we are, the more original we are, or the greater our intellectual or aesthetic ability is, then the more we appreciate the work of art (without need for the usual notes, labels and messages). It is like studying the Gomorra: the more you bring to the table, in terms of knowledge and experience, the more benefit you get out of it”¦. Two, the other school of thought is that the creator can not possibly know all the implications and meanings of his work, since he does not know his subconscious and subliminal influences on his work. Therefore, we as receivers of the work or as observers are the ultimate creators since we reinterpret his/her work and recreate the work anew each time we view it in each generation. We therefore deconstruct the work and resynthesize it anew. The ultimate, greatest works are therefore those which allow for the greatest amount of interpretation and those that bring forth new and innovative ideas to see the world anew”¦. Thus in the first instance you are able to teach some one to appreciate art and learn and expand his/her horizons. In the latter case one can not be taught since one’s appreciation is a function of his/her life experience and beside the point; all interpretation is equally valid. I lean towards the former point of view. On the other hand I feel that teaching some one art appreciation is a waste of time. It should come from within one self and be a part of one’s life. NU GENUG SHOIN! Best, Gersh
Dear Gersh, And you thought I was windy! Actually, I loved your discussion. And I agree with your analysis of the two schools of thought regarding art interpretation. But what interests me even more is not how or whether one can be taught to appreciate art (I believe one can), but whether one can be taught to like it (I have concluded that one can’t). -Kobi
Dear Kobi, I do agree that one can [learn to] appreciate the art but it is hard to make one like it. Best-Gersh
The appeal of animal portraiture is probably deeply linked to that of human portraiture. Yet the reasons underlying the appeal of both types of portraiture have received scant attention. The psychological appeal of human portraiture is poorly understood, and has also rarely been tackled by museum exhibits or art history. To understand the emotional appeal of animals in art, we probably ought to know what it is about human portraiture that we find so attractive, even spellbinding? Are we not accosted by 5, 50 or even 500 faces each day of our lives? Why does it matter on a given day if we see several more faces represented on canvas? It would seem that we measure the greatness of a portraitist in large part by the human emotion his art evokes. Why do we care? –Kobi
Picasso’s depictions of animals are among the most moving of his works and, for Picasso lovers at least, rank among the most moving animal portraiture in the history of Western art. In addition to his beloved dogs, Picasso kept a wide variety of animals through much of his life. A goat slept outside his bedroom. He boarded doves and famously nursed an injured owl back to health. He painted cats, primates, and all sorts of birds. He deeply identified with the circus since a young age, and painted its entire complement of animals repeatedly. He was an avid bullfight spectator, and that spectacle featured prominently in his work as well. Picasso’s father was also an artist, whose major artistic focus was (amazingly) the pigeon.
It is worth noting that Picasso’s depiction of animals is not at all anthropomorphic. He clearly does not attempt to imbue his zoo with human feelings or expressions. The rooster crowing its head off is just being a rooster, and his gripping expression conveys his essential “roosterness” so deeply. If anything, there is a “reverse anthropomorphism”; in Picasso’s art, in which the viewer, much as Picasso himself, is encouraged to identify with the animal. It is widely acknowledged that Picasso identified with his depictions of bulls and minotaurs. Does his art not also encourage us to empathize with his suffering horses, goats, and lambs?
Why is it that we love animals in art? Animals are pervasive in the art of all ages, but this fundamental question has scarcely been addressed. In ancient art, which reflected hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies, animals provided a ready artistic motif perhaps more compellingly than in the modern world. Yet today we still love our animal portraiture. Would it be truistic to attribute its appeal solely to our love of animals? And even though we may not love particular animals, say spiders, the form of these animals and, in the case of spiders, their creations (spider webs) appeal to our curiosity as well as to our aesthetic sense. Animal portraits can also convey emotion, simple yet profound, which, in turn, can be very evocative of our own emotions.
Part of the charm of animal portraiture may be related to our understanding that the animals’ facial expressions and the emotions that they convey are simple, direct, guileless and uncomplicated, and thereby reach deeply into our psyche. (We may have similar reactions to a baby’s facial expressions for possibly similar reasons.)
We are interested in further probing the psychological appeal of Picasso’s animal portraiture. We encourage you to take stock of your own reactions to his work. To aid you in this quest, should you undertake it, below is a list of URLs relating to Picasso’s animal portraiture which I have found to be of interest. –Kobi
http://www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/morgue/2003/2003_02_21.creatures21ja.html This is the URL to a recent Palo Alto exhibit called Animals of Imagination which hints at what I’m trying to investigate.
http://www.pets-in-the-news.com/html/search2.php3/entryID=49 interesting short essay on Picasso’s love for animals and the animals he kept
http://www.tamu.edu/mocl/picasso/works/1923/opp23-45.html provocative comments in the form of an auction lot caption
http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/guernica/glevel_1/5_meaning.html nice discussion in general and of the animals in Guernica in particular
http://www.tamu.edu/mocl/picasso/tour/t91d.html. Excerpt from The On-Line Picasso Project: “Picasso’s relations with his animals were very close: he had an extraordinary gift for entering into direct contact with them…. He had in fact a most luminous and striking eye, a singular, penetrating gaze, always the first thing that people noticed…. Picasso did not shift his animals to a semi-human plane–he met them on their own.” (cf. O’Brian 1994, 37)