Picasso Exhibit

Picasso, “Two Statements on Art”  paired with Rockefeller tapestries Kykuit (on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art, December 20, 2014 – March 8, 2015)

On January 31st, Saturday afternoon, 3-5pm  at the San Antonio Museum of Art in San Antonio TX a group of a dozen folks from various backgrounds joined together in a conversation about the art of the Rockefeller exhibit and a reading of Picasso’s statements on the art making process.   The afternoon started with a private tour and lecture about the exhibition by Moira Allen, the Museum’s knowledgable Public Programs Manager.

“Between 1955 and 1975, Nelson A. Rockefeller undertook an ambitious project: commissioning eighteen enormous tapestries modeled after some of Pablo Picasso’s most important paintings, including Girl with Mandolin, Interior with Girl Drawing, Night Fishing at Antibes, and Three Musicians. Enormous in scale, these woven works of art each took between three and six months to complete. They reflect Rockefeller’s interest in the medieval tradition of French tapestry and his love of modern art, while appealing to his egalitarian spirit.”
….
“The tapestries were woven entirely by hand by Madame Jacqueline de la Baume Dϋrrbach in Cavalaire, France, in consultation with Picasso. First, a “cartoon” design was made by the studio and approved by Picasso. In most cases, a good set of transparencies would be sent to Dϋrrbach’s studio or color charts were prepared along with a narrative explaining the nuances of brushstroke, texture, and transition of colors. As another part of the process, yarns were often sent by Dürrbach’s studio to be matched against paintings that were in New York. Yarns were dyed especially for the weavings by a color expert at Aubusson or Felletin. Picasso collaborated with the weaver about color choices and kept up a lively exchange of letters with Rockefeller until his own death in 1973.”  (Exhibition Notes, San Antonio Museum of Art (samuseum.org)

After the tour and lecture, the group grabbed stools and sat in a circle in the exhibition gallery, surrounded by these amazing tapestries.

Art is difficult to talk about. Indeed, many wonder whether all ‘art talk’ is doomed to shallowness or ‘mere’ speculation.  Even if there is a lot of shallow talk about art, we believe that this need not be the case. We have found in our work with the Museum that a good, purposeful conversation in the presence of the art can actually help open the eyes.
We try to encourage participants to become aware of this. One of the best things that we can demand of our conversation is the opportunity and ability to engage more fully, more completely, more directly, with the artworks themselves, and the questions and claims raised in the text.  The sum of our efforts is not  “analysis”, or a process of  intellectualizing, but seeing clearly and well.

The conversation is kicked off with a reading of a passage or two from the text, followed by an opening question.  Read the entire text here: Two_Statements_Picasso

In Picasso’s own words:

“Museums are a lot of lies, and the people who make art their business are mostly imposters…We have infected the pictures in museums with all of our stupidities, all of mistakes, all our poverty of spirit.  We have turned them into petty and ridiculous things. We’ve been tied to a fiction, instead of trying to sense what inner life there was of the men who painted them.”  (Two Statements by Picasso, 2nd statement, 1935)

Opening question: This is a great passage, and we all had a good laugh at it, the irony obvious.  In this passage – and indeed in the reading as a whole – Picasso offers advice about how not to look at his paintings, and maybe even art in general. I proposed  that the group try to come to an understanding of his way of thinking about how to look at art, and see if we can discover some things on our own by looking at some examples in front of us. One of the questions that is raised is this: the colors and size of the tapestries make quite an impression.  Many of the original paintings are much smaller in size.  Suppose the huge images were mechanical, digital reproductions of the paintings, instead of  tapestries. Would they hold less appeal?  People seemed to agree that they would be less appealing.  But what is it that tapestries by Madame Jacqueline de la Baume Dϋrrbach add to the images, if anything? Texture? But a machine might make tapestries. Would they hold the same appeal?

You can read about how seminar works in general here.

Most people understand intuitively the three basic ground rules of conversation:

1. Civility, no matter how sharp the clash of opinions may be
2. Willingness to respond to each other and not only the leader, offering answers supported by experiences or the text.
3. Keep reference to outside sources (other books read, expert opinions etc.) to an utmost minimum, since the text at hand is the common ground.

The group on Saturday afternoon did beautifully.  We had one reference to an outside source, a poem, and the source supported and advanced the conversation.   The reason for this rule of thumb, by the way, is simply to level the playing field, so we are all thinking from the same starting points – Picasso’s works and his words about his own work.  Far from confining the conversation, this common ground actually opens a space in which fresh thinking and reflection on experience  is possible.

Even though we asked an opening question, the movement of the conversation was not predetermined in advance, and developed in several directions. Our conversation moved from the initial responses to the opening question, to  trying to come to an understanding of the meaning of the word “emotion” in Picasso’s use, and how it might be seen in his images, and the tapestries in particular.   At times we discussed his words recorded in the text, focusing on a passage or two, parsing out the finer details.  But a fair amount of the conversation was spent processing the particular details of the images themselves.   One question that emerges from his work concerns the portrayal of the human body, which appears distorted and – if you will – disfigured.  What is the effect of this disfiguration? Is it dehumanizing, or re-humanizing?

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It was a wonderful conversation, full of interesting thoughtful comments.  After our conversation ended at 4:30, the group  moved to the main foyer of the Museum to enjoy wine and hors d’oevres, just another way to continue the conversation in the spirit of conviviality.

I met some new people there, and hope to foster a friendship over a common interest in the “best that is thought and said,” as well as the great masterworks of the human spirit.  We hope you can  join us at the Museum in future!

 

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