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Famous Picasso painting center of CMA exhibit

1/3/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Pablo Picasso’s “Carles Casagemas” is on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: Deconstructing ‘La Vie’ exhibit.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — Who knew that Pablo Picasso’s “Blue Period” coincided with an actual sad period in his life? That’s just one of the things to discover about one of the most prolific and famous artists in the world when viewing the new exhibit at Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) called Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: Deconstructing ‘La Vie.’

According to William Robinson, author of a book with the same main title as the exhibit and curator of this well-researched and nicely presented exhibit, Picasso entered his “Blue Period” shortly after his former apartment mate, close friend and fellow café society partner Carles Casagemas committed suicide publicly while also trying to shoot his paramour, Germaine Pichot.

Picasso painted death scenes of his friend. Some of those works, too, are on exhibit, as well as images of the lady in question. The tying together of aspects of the artist’s life and the larger bohemian culture that Picasso lived in inform CMA’s exhibit.

The work “La Vie” dominates the gallery, while flowing away from it on all sides are aspects of Picasso’s art and the influences on him (like sculptor Auguste Rodin) that help with interpretations of what is arguably Picasso’s greatest masterpiece, a work that CMA owns and prizes highly.

With regard to “La Vie” itself, Robinson has included radiographs that show the development of the work. As an example, we can see that an earlier work had been painted over. The one underneath was titled, “Last Moments,” and depicted a deathbed scene, again underscoring the artist’s growing depression and despondency.

In the newer work, infrared and radiography show that Picasso had originally had his own image as the young man on the left hand side of the painting. He painted over that and added the likeness of Casagemas, his suicidal poet friend.

The work, as Robinson noted in a tour of the gallery, is replete with references to the artist’s life and the artistic world and culture he lived in. The young man’s hand is pointing much as one might note in Michaelangelo’s image of Adam in his “Last Judgement” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. There are other instances of the same gesture, both by Picasso and other artists that make the same significant connection.

Viewers who go to see this exhibit should take extra time to see all the related works and explanations that give interpretation to the work.

As Robinson noted, he keeps coming back to this work and sees new things within it. He is, as he noted, still discovering clues to Picasso’s mind and artistry. It’s the point of research, that is, to look again and again at a topic to see it differently and accumulatively. The curator for this exhibit has done just that, and through the use of scientific methods and processes, along with a broad look at late 19th- and early 20th-century art and literature, the accomplishment is meticulously achieved.

The notion of the artist as a Christ-like figure, the whole idea of the estranged suicidal artist, connections to other artists and their ideas — like Rodin and Paul Gauguin — all come together to make this particular display of “La Vie” artistically meaningful.

The exhibit will be on display through April 23.

CMA is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission to this exhibit is free. For more information, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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