Review – After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists
Pablo Picasso. You may love him or hate him, but there is no denying he was a game-changer. When he and fellow artist, Georges Braque, co-invented Cubism, they instigated a radical rethinking of the traditional visual language of painting. Their fractured, planar, abstract approach to depicting 3-dimensional subject matter on a 2-dimensional canvas ushered in new ideas about representation and vision, irrevocably altering what painting could be. Over the course of his long career (spanning nearly 80 years) Picasso continued to innovate, explore, and carve out new territory, ultimately producing an estimated 20,000 works, including drawings, paintings, prints, ceramics and sculpture. And, as if Picasso the artist didn’t cast a long enough shadow, on top of that there was Picasso the man. His audacious personality, formidable ego and tempestuous personal life have become just as much a part of his legend as his creative innovations.
Picasso’s personal and artistic legacy, and the myriad ways in which artists and audiences have responded to it, is at the heart of After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists. The exhibition, on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts, presents a sweeping survey of 150 works in a vast range of styles, techniques, and media. Some are stunningly, almost jarringly, diverse and yet they are united under one roof by the fact they share some connection to this singular man. There are works portraying Picasso, there are works exposing Picasso, there are works in the style of Picasso, there are works inspired by Picasso, there works that critique, tease, taunt and adore. Running the gamut from the playful commentary of Sean Landers’ candy-colored confection, Genius, to the dark dismemberments of Joel Peter Witkin’s moody photographs; from the pithy post-colonial critique of Fred Wilson’s Picasso/Whose Rules?, to the deadpan appropriations of Mike Bidlo’s Not Picasso series, a wide swath of art historical territory is being covered in an equally wide range of styles, attitudes and approaches.
Because many of these pieces were created by artists about another artist, it is inevitable there will be inside jokes and art world references. While some prior knowledge of art and art history is not required, it can certainly be helpful in fully appreciating the meaning of many works. Richard Hamilton’s etching, Picasso’s Meninas, 1973, is a play on a very famous painting by another iconic Spanish artist, Diego Valasquez. Here, Hamilton peoples the image with Picasso and his creations rather than the royal court. The artist Claus Oldenberg’s genius lies in the way he manipulates scale to create wonderfully outsized sculptures of small objects. Knowing this, the sly humor of Picasso Cufflink, 1974, becomes clear if you recognize that the cufflink in question is actually the massive 160-ton steel sculpture Picasso created for Daley Plaza in Chicago.
Even works in which the stylistic ties to Picasso seem clear-cut can have more nuanced back stories. Zhang Hongtu’s Bird’s Nest in the Style of Cubism, is a textbook rendition of Analytic Cubism. Color is drained away and muted earth tones are used to allow the viewer to really focus on form and composition. Also typical are the bits of text, numbers and fragmented images of the iconic stadium that are woven through the dynamic series of lines and planes. Initially, the style seems an odd choice for an artist to adopt in 2008 to represent the cutting edge architecture built for China’s Olympic games, but Cubism is the language of rebellion. The drab colors and tauntingly impenetrable fragmentation proved to be as inflammatory in the 21st century as they were in 1912. Chinese officials censored the work, refusing it entry at customs.
Knowing the value of giving their audience access to the additional facts that help round out this exhibition, the Wexner Center has provided a lovely gallery guide, as well as an interactive app. iPad minis are positioned throughout the galleries, so you can just pick one up, scan specially marked works and tap the image to find out more. But even without any background information whatsoever, there is plenty here to just enjoy. Michelle Dumas’ achingly beautiful portrait of Dora Maar is enchanting whether you know anything about Maar and her connection to the artist or not. Alexander Wolff’s Wallpainting Wexner Center, Columbus provides a delightfully perspective-challenging experience as you ascend the ramp toward the towering gallery wall that has been completely transformed into a Synthetic Cubist collage for this exhibition.
Oil on linen
86 x 214 in.
218.4 x 543.6 cm
Ringier Collection, Switzerland
© Sean Landers, Courtesy of the artist and Petzel Gallery, New York.
Photo: Oren Slor
Pablo Picasso. You may love him or hate him, but there is no denying he’s left quite a legacy. You should go check it out for yourself. And maybe catch one of these upcoming programs surrounding the exhibition.
After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists is on view at the Wexner Center now through Sunday, December 27, 2015. Visit them at 1871 N High Street, Columbus, OH 43210. For more information on hours, tickets and more, visit wexarts.org.
12/1/15 update from the Wexner Center: “We regret that the exhibition After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists will remain closed for the balance of its scheduled run.”