Pablo Picasso Gets Better As He Crumbles

THE DAILY PIC: A new book from MoMA shows how Cubist collage has decay at its heart.


Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914, a show at the Museum of Modern Art in 2011, was one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen: It was tightly focused and profoundly informative, and showed off some of the most thrilling art ever made. (It thus acts as a wonderful reprimand to collector-based–and necessarily empty-headed–shows such as the spread of Leonard Lauder Cubist pictures now at the Met, reviewed by my Artnet colleague Ben Davis: see “‘Cubism’ at the Met: Modern Art That Looks Tragically Antique”.)

Three years after it closed, the MoMA show has gotten even better: The museum has released a kind of post-facto catalog of the event, letting us take in all the insights that came from assembling and seeing its works. The catalog is available as an iPad book, which means it has bells and whistles such as revolving images of 3D works and clickable footnotes. (One Big Ben it lacks, incredibly, is any way to look at an image as you read about it–as you can with any paper book just by sticking a thumb at the page with the picture.)

What’s best about MoMA’s virtual tome is much more traditional: The insights of smart art scholars and conservators, presented in good old propositional texts. One of my favorites comes from the always-smart Jeffrey Weiss, senior curator at the Guggenheim, who points out the deeply contingent nature of Picasso’s collages, and how they change over time. Because they were made of casually glued together bits of newsprint and lousy paper, “ineluctable change belongs, at the very least, to the material logic of papier collé”, as Weiss puts it. The collages’ ephemeral making captured the profoundly Cubist notion that at best the world barely coheres, and its flux can never be fixed by our eyes or our minds – or even our artists.

Today’s Daily Pic, shot in Picasso’s studio in late 1912 or early ‘13, captures how Picasso allowed that flux  into his practice, and how much we lose when we tidy him up. (Private collection, courtesy MoMA)

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