Painting In The Present

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Jed Perl recently visited two exhibitions of Picasso’s work – one in Paris, one in New York City – leading him to consider why the artist still resonates so powerfully:

Progress, at least in modern art, has often been related to ideas of purification, simplification, and reduction. Picasso was never committed to any of that, at least not for long. Sometimes he simplified, but as frequently he complicated. For Picasso, Cubism was as much complication as simplification, as much a matter of feeling as of form, the world comically and tragically disassembled and reassembled. Neoclassicism’s porcelain-perfect verisimilitude was as natural an outcome as the abstract web of the 1928 design for a monument to Apollinaire. If Picasso’s work strikes with particular urgency now, it is because his skepticism about the promise of progress and his heartfelt and disorderly humanism accord with our moment, when we often feel that the best we can do is to take things as they come, the tragic and the comic bewilderingly mixed. Like Picasso, we do not see catharsis in the old modern dream of progress.

A product of modernism, Picasso trumped modernism. By rejecting the idea of art as having a past or a future, he has somehow managed to stay with us in the present. Going through the rooms full of Picassos in New York and Paris, confronting at every turn the faces and figures of his lovers and friends and mythological imaginings, we find ourselves happily besieged by humanity in all its crazy, wonderful, awful profusion. For those who had imagined that Picasso would recede with the modern century, there is quite a shock in finding that he is right here beside us as we stand blinking in the harsh light of the day after modernism died.

(Photo by Antonio Rubio)