Picasso: Blue, Rose… and Black & White – Guggenheim’s must-see

There is a must-see exhibition currently at the Guggenheim in New York: Picasso Black and White, focusing on… black and white (B&W) paintings by Picasso. I don’t believe any other exhibition had focused on Picasso’s use of B&W before, despite its particular importance to his art. Picasso limited his colour palette when tackling complex compositions, isolating structure and qualities of form and creating visual strength and richness. He even declared that colour was not essential but forms, lines and structure were.

The exhibition starts at the bottom of the museum and follows the snail-shaped stairs until the top. My highlights: “Man, Woman and Child” (not strictly B&W as it was from his Rose period) which was influenced by ancient tribal art, demonstrated by primitivist faces and an angular style, ahead of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, which then lead to cubism. Two seated nudes: one (1908) showing a shortened man’s face while the second (classical period) showing a woman looking herself in the mirror, with white highlights.

My preferred piece in the show is Bust of Woman, arms raised (Coll. Michael and Judy Steinhardt): a sculpture-like painting with brushstrokes comparable to chisel cuts. The exhibition includes some B&W portraits of Marie -Therese, who is my favourite Picasso wife for her curveous sensuality. Her nose was characteristically depicted in a straight line from her forehead. I overheard a eight-year old girl asking her father “how many wives did
Picasso have?” after he told her it was another painting of Picasso’s wife! Also included are studies for the Guernica, for which B&W was the only logical choice. In my view, this was one of the most interesting Picasso exhibitions I have seen. Get there before January 23rd.


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