Picasso’s sculptures are not as familiar as you might expect. The reason is partly pragmatic: bulky and breakable, they can be awkward to transport from one institution to another. Simple maths also plays its part. Picasso produced some 4,000 paintings versus roughly 700 sculptures, so the odds are against them – but if you push the practicalities to one side, things get interesting.
Picasso developed a deep-rooted relationship with his sculptures, growing more attached to them as if they were members of his extended family, or characters from a series of novels. For most of his career, he kept them close by, nestled in his own private world, protected from the public eye. It was not until 1966, and a sprawling retrospective in Paris, that the public became fully aware of them – but this bond is not unique to Picasso. Degas kept more than a hundred waxes hidden in his studio, none of which was discovered until his death in 1917, and in our time Cy Twombly had an extraordinary collection of plaster and wood constructions that he too kept tucked away. Why did they do it? According to Anne Umland, the co-curator of a new show at MoMA in New York, “because sculpture has this privileged position”.
With no formal training, no rule-book to follow, Picasso invented his own way of working. He started to combine bronze with basic, everyday materials and moved away from traditional figurative sculpture to subjects that were highly unorthodox. Take a look at “Glass of Absinthe”, 1914. For the first time, Picasso introduces a found object (a silver spoon) to create a new, hybrid form that challenges the very notion of what a sculpture was and what it could be. More primitive than beautiful, it has a technical immediacy and authority that is difficult to achieve in metal.
Then there is “Flowery Watering Can”, 1951-52 – different altogether, but armed with the same anthropomorphic quality that is there in nearly all of Picasso’s sculptures. Full of personality and spirit, it is playful, haphazard, free, exuberant. Everything a piece of sculpture should be. ~ OLIVIA WEINBERG
Picasso Sculpture MoMA, New York, Sept 14th to Feb 7th
EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE
Frank Auerbach (Tate Britain, London, Oct 9th to March 13th). A bit like Freud, a bit like Bacon, but all his own man, Auerbach is an astonishing artist. His canvases drip with pathos – the more you look, the more you feel. The curator is Catherine Lampert, who has sat for him every week for 37 years.
Splendour and Misery: Pictures of Prostitution in France (1850-1910) (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Sept 22nd to Jan 17th). Dirty brothels, exploited women; seedy subjects never did art any harm. Jean Béraud’s “The Wait”, 1880, is a highlight.
The Wrath of the Gods: Masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Sept 12th to Dec 6th). “Prometheus Bound”, c.1611/12-18, by Rubens (pictured) is unusual: he is not just chained to his rock, but flung diagonally across the canvas. It’s big and powerful and here it is in conversation with Michelangelo and Titian.
Ai Weiwei (Royal Academy, London, Sept 19th to Dec 13th). Kapoor, Hockney, Kiefer and now Ai Weiwei. So what will the damage be this time?
Divine Beauty from Van Gogh to Chagall and Fontana (Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Sept 24th to Jan 24th). A weighty show that aims to unravel the intricate relationship between art and religion, 1850-1950. With Morelli, Guttuso and Fontana alongside Munch, Ernst and Matisse, you can expect some unexpected pairings.
V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life (Guggenheim, Venice, Oct 3rd to Jan 10th). Gaitonde is little known outside India, but that could be about to change. In the 1950s he developed his own style using palette knives, paint rollers and torn-up bits of newspaper. His floating forms are full of texture and toil.
Dutch Self-Portraits: Selfies of the Golden Age (Mauritshuis, The Hague, Oct 8th to Jan 3rd). Better than any selfie, these are some of the best portraits ever made, oozing raw emotion and quiet authority. #nofilterneeded
The Botticelli Renaissance (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Sept 24th to Jan 24th). One of the giants of the 15th century was swiftly forgotten, then rediscovered in the 19th. This show may explain why. ~ OW