Picasso, Our Greatest Old Master—But Now as Much ‘Old’ as ‘Master’

THE DAILY PIC: At LACMA, a Picasso/Rivera pairing puts Picasso in the lead – of a race we're no longer running.

THE DAILY PIC (#1748): A second Daily Pic from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – this time, the Musée Picasso’s 1920 canvas called Studies, currently on view in LACMA’s “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time.” If one reason for yoking the two artists in one show was to use Picasso’s name to attract attention to his Mexican friend, I’m not sure that was such a good idea: Picasso’s unbeatable artistic achievement eclipses Rivera’s fine work.

Studies itself comes off as a declaration of protean clout, and it is certainly true that no other painter has ever touched on as many subjects, styles and innovations—or hit as many nerves—as Picasso.

But for all my unending admiration for his achievement, I was also struck at LACMA by a deep strain of conservatism in him. Across a century in which Dada and its heirs were pushing the definition of art to the breaking point—into the realms of non-art, anti-art, post-art—Picasso contented himself, from first to last, with the most traditional kinds of object-making.

From the viewpoint of our current era, Picasso has definitely earned a place as one of the very greatest—possibly the greatest—of the Old (Dead, White, Male) Masters. But that also makes him seem less useful to contemporary culture than he might have been just decades ago. The radical achievements of Duchamp and Warhol (not to mention Ukeles and Pope.L) have come to count as the gold standard in creativity. That has made Picasso the Old Master seem as much “old” as a “master.” (©2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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