Picasso Sculpture Disables Critics

THE DAILY PIC: His MoMA survey garners raves – but very little new thought.


THE DAILY PIC (#1390): I have yet to see the survey of Pablo Picasso’s sculpture that just opened at the Museum of Modern Art, but today’s Pic is meant to remind New Yorkers that there’s one huge Picasso they can see anytime they want, on the grounds of NYU’s Silver Towers downtown.

The piece, from 1968, gets at issues of modern urban scale in a way almost no other Picasso does. (Guernica is big, but no bigger than some paintings by Tintoretto or Rubens.) The concrete slabs in NYU’s piece also address modern, industrial materials in a way that particularly suits the moment they were made, and the kind of site they were made for.

As I said, I haven’t seen the city’s other Picasso sculptures, over at MoMA, but they have already managed to impress me just as much. Reading the raves the show got from all of our most prominent critics, I couldn’t help noticing that even the very smartest of them – even Jason Farago in the Guardian and artnet’s own Ben Davis – were half disabled by its excellence. In all the hundreds of column inches devoted to the survey, there was hardly a bold, original thought on display. As I’ve argued before, clichés are the greatest peril facing today’s imperiled art criticism, and they’ve shown up in droves to salute Picasso’s sculptures.

Except for a few asides about sex and war, most of the reviews had a formalist slant, almost as though Picasso’s work was content-free and the last 30 years of content-centered art history had never happened. The social context for Picasso’s sculptures – the meanings they might have had, where and when they were made – was almost completely absent from its reviews.

I think this is both a sign of the work’s excellence and a product of it. Picasso is such a great and powerful artist that his work somehow manages to set the terms for its own discussion. The Spaniards sculptures don’t want us thinking about his misogyny, his wealth and haut-bourgeois values, his desultory communism – and guess what, we don’t.

I’m sure that the Picasso sculptures at MoMA will turn out as great as everyone says. But I’d sure love to see someone find new ways to conceive of their excellence.

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

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