At MOMA, Is This Pablo Picasso’s Greatest Sculpture?

THE DAILY PIC: He tried out modesty and restraint as artistic ideals.


THE DAILY PIC (#1401, Picasso Edition): This is the latest in this week of Pics that I’m choosing from the notable “Picasso Sculpture” show at MoMA in New York. Today’s piece, from 1934, is called Relief and is only 10 inches long. Its daring alone makes it one of the most impressive pieces in the show.

There’s hardly another work in Picasso’s oeuvre that comes as close to being abstract. (Picasso sometimes took pot-shots at abstraction.) Relief may also count as just about the only time, ever, that Picasso tried on modesty and diffidence as artistic ideals. The piece is like a Richard Tuttle, but made before that artist was born. Like a classic Tuttle, and unlike almost any other Picasso, the sculpture is barely even there and might easily get thrown out with the trash.

Or maybe there’s another explanation for the piece that preserves Picasso’s signature megalomania. Look at it closely, or in a photograph, and it’s easy to imagine this modest little object as the wall of some great Bronze Age citadel. That may be the imposing essence that Picasso had spotted in it.

When the publisher of a volume on Picasso’s sculptures wanted to edit out Relief and some other “minor” plasters like it, the artist responded “They too are very important! And I ab-so-lute-ly insist that they appear in your book.” (Private collection, courtesy Fundacion Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

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