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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Picasso at the PMA

Curator Taylor offers American
'Context' to Artist's European Creation

By Richard Carreno
Junto Staff Writer Bio
No one can fault the PMA's modern art impresario, Michael Taylor, for picking as much low-hanging fruit as possible from the Pablo Picasso vine. As demonstrated by the current show of Picasso's seminal work in his pre-World War II years in Paris, the art museum is fabulously rich in works by the artist. That's largely thanks to gargantuan donations by A.E. Gallatin and Louise and Walter Arensberg.

But curator Taylor also wanted to do more, creating what he calls 'context' to his Picasso homage.

The result is a small 'sidebar' exhibit to main-stage event, utilizing lesser-known collections donated by Georgia O'Keefe and the estate of Paul Strand.

These works, paintings and photographs (by Strand) occupy the long, narrow hallway leading to the American art collection. Unfortunately, the day I visited earlier this week, this ancillary exhibit wasn't getting the follow-up it deserves. (It was me, another museum-goer, and a friendly guard).

Before that, I had spotted Taylor amongst the crowds. As ever ebullient and jolly, and loaded with facts, he was confounding a female reporter from a local television station. 

I also spied a small sign announcing 'Picasso in Context.'

The context that Taylor is referring to is how Picasso, Cubism, yea, modernism came to be introduced to the United States.

And that, according to Taylor, can be largely attributed to the pioneering American photographer Alfred Stieglitz who figuratively and literally opened the doors to Picasso, George Braque, Cubism -- and mamma mia! -- European modernism to America. (Think The Beatles introduced on The Ed Sullivan Show).

In 1911, Picasso got his American debut at Stieglitz' 291 gallery/studio (291 Fifth Avenue, New York). In 1914, Stieglitz turned over the gallery to a joint show of Picasso and Braque.

Meantime, Stieglitz was also showing (and promoting) works by other emerging home-grown modernists like Marsden Hartley and his paramour and, later, wife, Georgia O'Keefe. (Their relationship was stormy. Enough said).

Taylor has hung a couple of works by O'Keefe. Hardly brilliant. But interesting.

In sharp contrast is the lensmanship of mid-20th century American photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976). Between 1955 and 1957, Strand visited Picasso (at his Cannes villa) and Braque (at his Normandy house), and snapped extraordinary images. All capturing the men and their moments.

A Picasso head-and-shoulders shot, a stationery-sized black-and-white portrait, is a must-see. Picasso is pictured in an intense moment. His beady eyes are penetrating. I'm titling the picture 'The Evil Eye.'

It is said that Strand and the artist failed to kindle a friendship. Well, surely, well short of a Facebook hook-up.
  

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