At MoMA, Pablo Picasso Sculpts His Paintings

THE DAILY PIC: Picasso's 'Guitar' depicts the instrument as a Cubist vision.


THE DAILY PIC (#1399, Picasso Edition): As promised, today’s column is devoted to the treasure-filled “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition at MoMA. In fact, the Daily Pic is going to roam among the show’s glories for this entire week.

This first installment is (predictably) devoted to the most famous, most revolutionary sculpture Picasso ever made: The paper construction of a guitar that he cobbled together late in 1912. As just about everybody points out, it manages to rewrite the rules for how three dimensions can be represented in sculpture, just as Picasso’s paintings had done in 2D. With his guitar assemblage, Picasso manages to represent empty space – of the guitar’s sound-hole, for instance – as a positive, material presence.

But here’s something important: This piece does not, in any normal sense, depict a guitar. How often have we ever seen a guitar standing up the way this one does, unplayably remote and erect as it balances on a table top? As I talked the piece through with a philosopher friend of mine named Martin Lin (who happens also to be a rock guitarist) we came to a different conclusion about what Picasso is representing in it: The piece is a rendering, in three dimensions, of the scene you would see – and probably only see – in a Picasso painting. This confirms and underlines the significance of the full title the work has been given, at least since its paper tabletop was found and reattached in 2005: “Still Life with Guitar”.

The defenders of Cubism have often said that Picasso’s style outdoes conventional realism in conveying an accurate view of the solid world, with all its seams and fractures, simultaneities and incoherences. In his Still Life with Guitar, Picasso makes that claim come true, by creating solids that only his Cubist paintings could ever match and depict.

He isn’t just a great eye, that is. He presents himself as a world-builder. And maybe a destroyer of worlds, as well. (© 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

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