This exhibition was inspired by the extensive Picasso holdings at the Barnes, as well as by the Picasso painting “Still Life with Compote and Glass,” 1914-15, from the Columbus Museum of Art. The exhibition brings together some 50 works by Picasso from major American and European museums and from private collections. It includes paintings, drawings and watercolors, as well as costumes designed for the avant-garde ballet “Parade.”
The show also features several pieces by Picasso’s contemporaries, including Henri Matisse and Georges Braque. Unlike other members of the Parisian avant-garde, Picasso never directly addressed the First World War as a subject in his art. Instead, he began experimenting with naturalistic representation, turning out classical figure drawings that outraged many of his avant-garde colleagues — this was quite a shift from the radical cubist approach he had been developing since 1907. Picasso did not give up cubism, however. Instead, he shuttled back and forth between two different styles for over a decade, breaking forms apart and making them whole again.
The exhibition looks closely at the strange ambivalence characterizing Picasso’s wartime production, exploring it in connection with changes in his personal life and with the political meanings ascribed to cubism during the war. Notes curator Simonetta Fraquelli, “A radical shift occurred in Picasso’s work in 1914. Following seven years of refining the visual language of cubism, he began to introduce elements of naturalism to his work.”
This change in his production can be viewed against the backdrop of an unsteady cultural climate in Paris during the First World War. Many people identified the fragmented forms of cubism with the German enemy, and therefore, perceived it as unpatriotic. This negative impression reverberated throughout Paris during the war and may have been a factor in Picasso’s shift in styles.
The exhibition also features four costumes that Picasso designed for the ballet “Parade,” which premiered in Paris in 1917. These four include the original costume for the character the Chinese conjurer and reproductions of the costumes for the characters the American manager, the French manager and the horse. Performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with music by Erik Satie, story by Jean Cocteau and choreography by Léonide Massine, “Parade” was the first cross-disciplinary collaboration of its kind. The ballet, which tells the story of an itinerant theater group performing a sideshow — or a parade — was viewed as a revolutionary approach to theater. Picasso was the first avant-garde artist involved in such a production, not only designing the costumes, but also the theater curtain and set.
Several works of art in the exhibition were loaned to the Barnes Foundation by Picasso’s grandson, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, who attended the opening and the patrons preview party. Among other attendees at the preview party were Thom Collins, executive director and president of the Barnes Foundation; Joe Neubauer, chairman of the board of trustees; Aileen Roberts, vice chair of the board of trustees, and her husband, Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast; Steve Harmelin, Esq., treasurer of the board of trustees, and his wife, Julia; and Sheldon Bonovitz, Esq., member of the board of trustees. Below is a gallery of photos from the patrons preview party.
Photos: Bonnie Squires.