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Cecil Beaton, “Pablo Picasso, rue Le Boétie” (1933), Paris (© The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s), featured in The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy at the Tate Modern

I found myself debating whether to see a Pablo Picasso exhibition in London not long after Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette went viral. This 69-minute comedy show that reinvents the genre melted my heart, shattered it to pieces, and then gently put it back together again. Until watching the Netflix special, I didn’t know Gadsby was trained as an art historian. In Nanette, the Australian comedian devotes some time to calling out the dubious nature of our culture’s glorification of Picasso — commonly known to be one of history’s biggest misogynists. Discussing his seduction of under-aged women, and the odious comments he made about them, Gadsby questions why we should aim to separate the man from the art rather than holding both accountable.

It is no secret that Picasso was an abusive character in the lives of those who loved him. In her memoir Picasso, My Grandfather, the artist’s granddaughter Marina Picasso describes the psychological trauma he inflicted on her and her family. After inheriting a large part of Picasso’s estate after his death in 1972, Marina Picasso started selling his artworks in order to free herself from her grandfather’s tyrannous legacy, haunted by memories of his degrading behavior towards her family, ultimately resulting, she writes, in her brother’s suicide at the age of 25 after, being rejected from attending Picasso’s funeral. Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter and his second wife Jacqueline Roque also committed suicide after Picasso’s death — and both cases have been romanticized as their inability to live without the artist. Famous for saying that “to make a dove, you must first wring its neck,” Picasso’s emotional abuse has been waved aside as a precondition for his creativity, rather than symptomatic of someone who has received a disproportionate amount of praise and power.

As a child, I myself was infatuated with Picasso. It all started with a movie I saw on television after my parents had already gone to bed (I remember this clearly because the commercials included some adult material). The movie, titled Surviving Picasso, was an adaptation of the French painter and bestselling author Françoise Gilot’s memoir about her life with the artist — the publication of which in 1965 upset Picasso so deeply that he disinherited their children, Paloma and Claude. Picasso is played by Anthony Hopkins, Gilot by Natascha McElhone, and Julianne Moore makes an appearance as the artist Dora Maar. What I learned from the narrative as portrayed in the film, was that Picasso was a genius artist who weakened the knees of countless beautiful young women, only to leave them broken-hearted and pursuing newly inspired romances. I wanted to be like Picasso. I didn’t yet understand that this desire was misguided and rooted in a severe lack of exposure to female artists — it would be a few more years until I discovered Frida Kahlo, and even more years until I read Linda Nochlin’s groundbreaking article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. All I knew was that I liked the movie, that I lived near a street named after Picasso, and our local bookstore had an entire section on “history’s greatest artist.”

Thankfully, my admiration faded as Picasso was slowly overshadowed by the many women artists I encountered in my studies and eventually my PhD. Even still, when looking over the bibliography for my required comprehensive exams two years ago, I did find that it included a disproportionate number of books on Picasso. But hey, he was such a trailblazer, it’s only natural isn’t it? Would we even have collage as an artistic medium if it wasn’t for Picasso and Georges Braque? Actually, we would. Collage was already being practiced during the Victorian era by English upper-class women such as Georgina Berkeley, though she is very unlikely to end up on anyone’s orals bibliography. After finishing my exams, Picasso faded even farther into the background of my scholarly pursuits, and I hadn’t thought about him much until seeing Nanette. Gadsby did a great job at refreshing my frustration around Picasso’s legacy, to say the least.

And so, when hashing out my itinerary for an upcoming research trip to London shortly after, it was with a certain incredulity that I discovered the Tate Modern was hosting a major Picasso exhibition titled Love, Fame, Tragedy. Dedicated to just one year of the artist’s life, 1932, the exhibition gives a month-by-month overview of “an intensely creative period in the life of the 20th century’s most influential artist.” Picasso’s art has been exhibited so many times at this point, that zooming in on particular years at least makes it seem that there are still new, unexplored perspectives — and since he lived to be almost 92, we should be good to go for another 70 years of Picasso shows.

In the year 1932, Picasso made a compulsive number of portraits of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom he met in 1927 when she was only seventeen. In his review for the New York Times, Jason Farago states that Picasso 1932 is as much her show as his, and the young Frenchwoman, lithe, athletic, untroubled, appears again and again in uncanny states of bodily deliquescence.” I find this statement to be ludicrous. How could it be “as much her show as his” when she only functions as the object and has no agency of her own? Reducing her to four adjectives — young, lithe, athletic, and untroubled — Farago re-objectifies Marie-Thérèse, implying and thereby perpetuating the longstanding notion that being objectified is women’s only contribution to art.

Nevertheless, I did want to see the show for myself. As art historians, we should always look before we judge — right? And since I always enjoy my visits to the Tate Modern, my plan was to go see the exhibition from a critical perspective, maybe even write a review pointing out how certain aspects of the work function as signifiers of Picasso’s misogyny (and what a long review that would be). However, standing in line to buy a ticket, my eye fell on the price: £25 for the Picasso show. Below that, the price for a Joan Jonas exhibition: £15. Insert dramatic mouth opening here.

I tried to determine Tate Modern’s reasoning for the discrepancy between the two entry prices: Picasso is known by dilettantes and art aficionados alike, and is perhaps so beloved by both crowds that the higher ticket price — and therefore increased revenues for the museum — would be paid without qualms. Or, perhaps, the works in the Picasso show were more expensive to borrow, transport, and install, so the costs were higher, therefore driving ticket prices higher. Many museums do tend to have one “highlight” show, with the other exhibitions on view being more of a supporting act, and highlights are often more expensive. It is also conceivable that the museum intentionally chose to make the Joan Jonas exhibition more affordable, in order to make it more accessible.

Sure, all of this could be true. However, it is also true that giving something a higher price implies that it has higher value. By making people pay 40% more for a male artist than a female artist, the museum asserts that one is worth more than the other. (Even if there have been cases at the Tate Modern where the roles were reversed, charging more for a female artist exhibition does not have the same demeaning impact, as male artists have not been subject to the genealogy of repression that female artists have — let alone those who are elsewhere on the gender spectrum.) I realized that not much has changed since I was a kid admiring Picasso. Anyone who visits this prominent art institution in London will be confronted with the same narrative: the blockbuster show on the tortured man-genius who objectified women.

After feeling unsettled by the price lists, I decided to browse through the gift shop created especially for this exhibition. My eyes fell on book titles such as Picasso Mania and Picasso’s Brain: The Basis of Creative Genius. I also flipped through the exhibition catalogue in the hopes that there would be at least one essay shedding light on the dubious nature of this endeavor. There wasn’t. The only object in the gift store that sparked my sincere interest was a book about Picasso’s dachshund, Lump.

I have no doubt that the Picasso exhibition was rich with art historical material, and I am by no means saying that we should erase Picasso from the history of art. But let’s stop the glorification and consider the consequences of blindly upholding certain artists on the high pedestal of art history and hanging on to the outdated notion of “genius.” It is inappropriate to dedicate so much glorified fanfare to a man who, if he were still alive, would find himself on the same list as Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen. Does the fact he’s dead make him no longer accountable? If we want to create a future that is inclusive of all voices and talents, and not dominated by those in power (who typically came to be so through dubious means), we need to rethink the art historical narratives we present.

Needless to say, I decided not to see the Picasso show. The Joan Jonas exhibit was beautiful.

Joan Jonas (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Joan Jonas exhibited at the Tate Modern (Bankside, London SE1 9TG) March 14–August 5. The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy continues at the Tate Modern (Bankside, London SE1 9TG) through September 9.

Ksenia M. Soboleva

Ksenia M. Soboleva is a New York based writer and art historian specializing in queer art and culture, with a particular focus on lesbian visibility.

61 replies on “Why I Did Not See the Picasso Show at the Tate Modern”

  1. Wow! I would like to take issue with Ms. Soboleva, with all due respect.

    It is frightful that a trained art historian would plea for ignorance of an artist – one of the most influential artists in the Modern era – because he was a womanizer. By this bias of “presentism” of history and morals, she might do even better to cast off knowledge of Egyptian art (slavery), pre-Columbian and much Native American art (scalping), the Roman Colosseum (murder as entertainment), the Aztec Empire (20,000 people sacrificed to gods per year), Stalinist art (tens of millions of deaths), and Valerie Solonas’ SCUM Manifesto (shot Andy Warhol), the Mongolian Empire….ad infinitum.

    Had Picasso murdered anyone, that would still not excuse ignorance of his work, as his work has influenced thousands of artists, and interpreting their work requires understanding Picasso’s formal language, at a minimum. How can Ms. Soboleva disregard Picasso’s work and explain women Modernists in Europe and America? Are they terrible artists too? Sonia Delaynay popped out of thin air, with Leger and Braque?

    Does Ms. Soboleva have any idea how many women painters there are in Brooklyn right now who appropriate Picasso’s forms, even if borrowed through Dana Schutz alone?

    Now to her appallingly misguided understanding of how museum prices work. The Picasso exhibit costs exponentially more to present because of loan agreements, insurance costs, scale, etc. Joan Jonas’s work is primarily performance, followed by video and installation. The costs to present this work is fractional not only to a Picasso show, but any show of paintings by anyone, certainly Nicole Eisenman. It’s not man vs. woman. Why does getting a PhD these days require a loss of common sense?

    Nobody is “blindly” upholding Picasso, as the author believes, but some are blindly dismissing him.

    1. So it’s enlightenment to “uphold” Picasso’s work and blindness to reject it? Isn’t that claim just as ludicrous as its contrary?

      Soboleva outlined the potential reasons for an admission price disparity. Did you not see that? We agree that “it is not necessarily man v. woman,” and that Soboleva is far too involved in identity political art-critical posturing, but that’s probably the coin of the realm in her discipline these days.

      I don’t think we can dismiss Picasso, but I do think it wise to affix a toxic warning label to it.

  2. Oh wow! My first comment is in regards to one of your last comments. By any measure (except innuendo and angry name-calling, finger-pointing, or let-me-destroy-you-with-unfounded-accusations), Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen can hardly be thrown haphazardly into the same cauldron. Our accusations against Weinstein are so numerous as to be believable even before a court hearing. Allen’s have been dismissed, and even the family is split on what they believe. I think that our sister François Gilot is in a strong position to comment, and she has done so honestly, and soberly. I respect her for that.

    Somehow, in reading your comments, it seems that you begin using a tone more or less in keeping with I would expect from a PhD. That tone, however, seems to deteriorate into one of an angry woman with a bone-to-pick attitude. We don’t have to take that tack. Let us, in stead, as you say, “create a future that is inclusive of all voices and talents”.

  3. 1. “Incredibility” is not a word. You mean “incredulity.”
    2. It’s not as if they had a showing of Hitler paintings as important works of art. Picasso was a distasteful misogynist, but that doesn’t discredit his work. Hate the person, not the creation. Learn from the creation, so that the awful person’s life gains additional meaning.

    1. The movement against separating the ‘man from the work’ – proposed by Gatsby as well, is applied to attack what is perceived as a destructive patriarchal figure; to try and strip its validity, but it is grasping at straws. It is a senseless argument that imagines human life to a consistent singular condition that is entirely of a self referential piece. This couldn’t be further from the truth, which incidentally is why we have art at all.

      Someone once said “I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes”
      Then again, some people were offended by some of Whitman’s poetry at the time, so perhaps we should erase his insights from history

  4. Thank you so much. I have long had an issue with Picasso’s unquestioned status at the top of the heap- despite the fact that he systematically stole from those around him. And that compared to Matisse, his paintings look like a hack job.

  5. Super piece. Good for you!
    P.S. Just skimmed the other comments that vigorously defend P and criticize you. I dunno. While accepting, as everyone must, that Picasso was a good artist, an innovator and highly, highly influential, I’m not sure I see what all the fuss is about. In my opinion he had no interest in color and tended often — not always! – to approach ideas superficially and then move on.

    1. “In my opinion he had no interest in color and tended often — not always! – to approach ideas superficially and then move on.”
      Sorry, he nailed both

      1. Well, that’s all very subjective, isn’t it..? His work has never spoken to me, and the tortured genius who tortured his family and kids doesn’t help his case. But everyone is free to like or dislike an artist, his work, or both.

        1. The quality of art is always subjective, the degree to which it succeeds in communicating ideas and influence is somewhat measurable. It is facile to say he approached ideas superficially and move on – yes, he did move on but not before doing more work and reinvention on that one idea (eg synthetic cubism) than most artist will do in a lifetime, and when he did move on he took those learning with him to inform the next body of work

    1. There’s being flawed and then there’s emotionally torturing your family and partners. I doubt “all of us” are that flawed.

      1. The problem, MS, is defining ‘flawed’. Does ‘flawed’ involve intent? On a scale of 1 to 10 how flawed are you, is Picasso, or Trump or Stalin or Jesus?

        1. Well, I did define emotionally torturing family and partners as being more than flawed. I’m not about rating people on a scale, but to humor you… yeah I’m less flawed than Picasso, Trump, and Stalin, and congrats, you are too!

  6. Picasso’s work is alway the first art that I see when walking into a gallery that he shares with other artists. His work has a strong graphic quality that would suggest a strong personality. Brilliant painter, particularly in the context of his time.
    Hyperallergic could run a whole series of reviews about shows that the reviewer hasn’t seen and critique the work based on how they feel and what they have heard about that particular artist. I appreciate that Ms Soboleva was upfront about her purpose and didn’t mask her opinions in an academic veneer. That is not always the case.

  7. seduction implies woman (and men) do not have free will and power of choice, which is pretty misogynistic in itself. Narcissists are liars, often with tragic results. Picasso was basically a charming con man, not on the scale of a, you know, jesus or buddha, but still genius level. We all face this disappointment, its really common, there is a church or temple or art gallery on every corner, and yes suicide can be a result but still that’s a personal choice, not everyone suicides

    1. Agree with “seduction implies woman (and men) do not have free will and power of choice, which is pretty misogynistic in itself.” You should have stopped there.

  8. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. I saw the show, and yes, it revealed Picasso’s obsession with Marie Therese Walter as well as his ability to create in a range of styles. It was also, for that reason, somewhat tiresome. I admired the facility with which he could paint the same curled up body and bland face so many different ways, but I also longed for something else and started to feel suffocated by his desire, which he of course very cannily exploited. Part of the allure, I think, is that viewers are invited to experience Picasso’s own obsession with this woman–a position that is, frankly, uncomfortable to me but may be secretly pleasurable to some for its very frisson. I also saw Shape of Light (interesting, too big, lost its focus halfway through) and Joan Jonas, which was moving.

    1. Yes.
      In spite of the opportunity to see some very known and studied works IRL, and the interesting progression of the same scene reduced by layers to vessel, mouth, breast, slit, there was a tiresome-ness to the onslaught.
      Maybe Soboleva should have seen it; to see a reduction of the received Picasso mythos, and the opening for less abstraction in the presentation of the man and the work.
      I think the show proffered Picasso as symbolic (emoji) of ‘artist’ and ‘genius’, more than a producer of work that was actually connected and transporting.
      Relishing to see, and yet, somehow disappointing.

  9. Rejecting Picasso for being abusive to people around him. Let’s stop using pennicillin because Best and Banting were also distinctly rude. Stop using iPhones or any Apple product because Steve Jobs was a right bastard? I cannot verbalize my lack of respect for author Ksenia M. Soboleva. The Justice Warrior who wants to shut down culture to police her own brand of what art we should see. It is Soboleva we should ignore.

    1. I’m just saddened by the barely concealed vitriol at Soboleva having dared disagree with the Artworld. All this does is demonstrate how far we’ve fallen.

  10. Wouldn’t it have served your argument better to just write an in-depth review of the Joan Jonas show, instead of reducing it to a single word, “beautiful”, at the end of the article?

  11. Does anyone read these pieces before publication? Couple of problematic sentences stop the music–and on what planet does “incredibility” stand in for incredulity? Is Hyperallergic just a sieve for journal writing–how about a little editorial pasodoble?
    P.S.The Barcelona Picasso Museum.
    P.P.S. “If you can take the hot lead enema, then you can cast the first stone.” Lenny Bruce

  12. “The movie, titled Surviving Picasso, was an adaptation of the French painter and bestselling author Françoise Gilot’s memoir about her life with the artist — the publication of which in 1965 upset “….It was actually an adaptation of Ariana “annoying”huffington’s book.A bit rubbish that the article’s author could not get that,amongst other things,correct.

  13. Thank you for this article. Ask anyone on the street to name five artists and they will inevitably name Picasso. Yes, he was an immensely talented artist, but why should we continue to laud his works when he’s already a household name? How many other artists–particularly those from marginalized backgrounds–were equally as gifted yet remain unknown? We can still certainly admire Picasso’s works but it’s time to make room for others.

    There is also NO DEFENDING his actions. It’s important that they come to light, even after all this time. If you want to separate the art from the artist, fine. But not all of us can.

    1. Yes, a household name. That is, also for people who don’t particularly like his work or have no particular interest in art… (He’s also a car name ahem) Why this man in particular is the epitome of “Artist”, I don’t know.

  14. The indignant response from readers is a little surprising. Although the author confesses to a childhood fascination with Picasso and details anecdotes from his life in support of her argument (that his harmful misogyny is excused or ignored because his genius is more fun, comfortable and profitable to focus on), a mere examination of his standing in the art world is apparently enough to offend. The commenter Robyn Reeder deems it “frightful that a trained art historian would plea [sic] ignorance of an artist … because he was a womanizer.” Neither of those things are happening, though: the author isn’t ignorant of Picasso and her issue isn’t with his womanizing but how those less-palatable facts are handled by others (in this case, the Tate Modern). Instead of taking in what the author is genuinely trying to say or offering additional information to illustrate a different point, Robyn just lobs insults about the author’s intelligence. Are we really this immature?! (And does anyone honestly think that Picasso’s legacy cannot withstand an online opinion piece?)

    Robyn doesn’t engage with any of the actual information presented or even offer her own perspective, either of which would have been enlightening and added to a discussion, she just calls the author stupid and denies that anyone “is ‘blindly’ upholding Picasso” … which is literally *exactly* what she is doing. No one can question Picasso because he’s Picasso so shut up? :/ Other comments like DennisMM’s are just as childish (a Hitler mention already!) and offensively condescending (I’m trying very hard not to diagnose this as a gender thing, although I’m curious if DennisMM’s tone would have been different if the author’s gender was different/unknown).

    Why do we react so strongly to an examination of Picasso? Why are we so personally invested? Is it because we connect so deeply with his work and, therefore, his failings somehow reflect on us? By appreciating the work of a cruel misogynist, does that somehow make us complicit in his wrongs? I’m genuinely curious and I hope my own tone isn’t coming across as combative at all, I don’t mean to be, and was trying to explain my own thought process clearly. Especially since I’m struggling to answer these questions myself.

    1. For a different aspect of Picasso’s “misogyny”, see my “Picasso’s Woman: Study in Symbolism
      and Manifest Desire” posted on ARTES magazine, 3 November, 2014.

    2. Of the responses so far, I appreciated yours. You ask the correct questions. Ms. Soboleva is doing something irregular, and that’s a good place to start. I was heartened at her opening ideas, but saddened that they revolve around identity political resentment and shaming. Like you, I also wish Ms. Soboleva would have proffered a personal view instead of picking up a sharpened contemporary weapon not of her own making.

      Like most of us involved professionally in the arts, we’ve looked Picasso’s oeuvre many times. I’ve never found it inspiring. For the most part I’ve found it either menacing or depressing. It has always seemed to me to be primarily the fruit of a deep-seated misanthropy. It makes even more sense when we accept the theory that depression is anger turned inward.

      That said, I think Picasso has a place in our art historical continuum (NOT pantheon) primarily because he’s a complete portrait of the early to mid 20th century west. The man was deeply flawed, and for a variety of reasons was allowed a freedom that paralleled other 20th century tyrants.

      I do warn others, however, that while we can “appreciate” his place in history, I would not allow the work into my living space. . . images, like ideas, are powerful and subtle, and we become what we surround ourselves with, so I’d counsel careful selection. Even what appears to be a benign work seems to me to be capable of calling forth concerns.

      It is my sincere belief that the popularity of Picasso’s work will fade with time and perspective. We’re just too close in history to be able to assess it objectively. When I look at Picasso, I work very hard to view it dispassionately, without the popular hagiography, but without resentment as well. When I do that, much of the work seems banal. It just doesn’t seem like there’s much there. Invention? Sure, but there’s lots of invention everywhere we look. Revolutionary? Maybe in an Elvis Presley kind of way, having taken much from others and re-labeled it. Genius? I don’t know the man, but I don’t see it in the work. Some moments of visual competence and originality, I can go with that. But I’ve seen his Portrait of Aunt Pepa described by an art historian as the “greatest portrait by a Spanish artist in history.” So much for Velasquez, Zurburan, Goya, Ribera, Murillo, and others that don’t readily jump to my mind. . .yikes.

      Some of the “early works” are his father’s academic studies with altered signatures. Probably not altered by Picasso, but quite possibly by some who thought to make some money with a quick stroke on a signature. A J. Ruiz drawing was much less commanding of market value than a P. Ruiz (with a curious tail on the J.) Some of the others done as a youth are clearly closely supervised and critiqued. While competent, I’ve seen a similar level of work by young people in my own region, and no one is calling them genius. Compare the self portrait of 1896 with the portrait of his father. Hmm. I think there’s a very long and powerful history of distortion around Señor Picasso, not all of his own making, but clearly part of his toolkit.

      How does one “create” 100,000 original “artworks” in a career of 70 years? That’s 4 works of genius per day every day. Forgive me if that’s a bit much to swallow.

      We are still missing a much needed perspective. Unfortunately that goes directly against the near century of overheated investment in Picasso’s major and minor works by the genteel and moneyed interests at the upper levels of the art world, so I don’t see it happening sometime soon.

      I do counsel interested patrons of art to separate the art market from the intrinsic or aesthetic value of a given work of art. Not that we should ignore the market, but it seems to me a good idea not to conflate market value with intrinsic merit of a given work. What someone is willing to pay for an art object is a complex interrelation of elements and conditions, of which intrinsic merit is only one. The biggest factor in the price of a work at the upper levels of investment is whether it will appreciate in value. Fred Ross made a killing buying Bouguereaus at basement prices in the 70’s because we were all in thrall to Cubism, Expressionism, AbEx and Minimalism and few saw value in 19th century academic art.

      My how things can change!

  15. I feel a bit sad reading this article. Sad for a person, now a PhD., who fell in love with a movie “about” an artist and not with the art. Sad for a person who wanted to “be like” a fictional character acted out by professional actors and actresses. Picasso was a force of nature in terms of how he could see and capture the world. An intuitive genius who was not only, perhaps, the finest painter of his time, but his sculpture transcends that of his contemporaries in many ways.
    For Ksenia to cast shadow on his contributions and illuminate his flaws is not constructive or interesting aesthetic dialog; it’s more sociological critique of cisgendered Caucasian males who do not deserve any further scholarship. I am sorry she missed the show, but perhaps she is really not that interested in art.

  16. I paid the price and loved the show. Few artists can be so dissected that their career can fill single year shows. 1932 was the height of the Great Depression and yet Picasso virtually “came of age” that year. At the same time, I appreciate the author’s point of view and enjoyed a well written essay about a complex man.

  17. Why did the Tate charge more for admission to the Picasso exhibition than to the Joan Jonas exhibition? To begin with, costs of security, insurance, transport of artworks, and other concerns make the mounting of an exhibition of this kind very, very expensive. Much more expensive than for a Joan Jonas exhibition. I suppose PhD’s like Soboleva never have to worry or think about things like this.
    To confuse Francoise Gilot’s very fine book with Arianna Huffington’s tripe is sloppy and lazy.

  18. I think really, the best way to process these “problematic” artists is to bluntly separate their lives from their art, as I really don’t think it brings anything to art discourse to lump them together.

    It is impossible to be a perfect human being, but creating an inspiring body of work that can empower anyone regardless of gender, race and social status is why people make art.

    Let’s talk about the works, what they mean to us, how they help us be ambitious artists – great artworks are universal. In many instances, flawed people create something better than them, transcend their measly existence in the creative process and from all their flaws and terrible personas, something beautiful erupts. So why not forget about the humans that made it, especially if they’re crappy humans?

    If I walk into a store and a song is playing, am I supposed to look up the song with Shazam, and then read the singer’s biography on Wikipedia, and then if there is a problematic behavior in their biography, ask the manager to please stop playing the song (let’s say, Michael Jackson for example)?
    If you walk into a building, do you Google the architect, and not enter the building if the architect was a mass murderer or rapist?
    Of course not.
    As listeners of songs, as art lovers, we decide to be blessed that these problematic artists did anything good and positive with their lives, or we decide to be offended – which would be a huge effort to do systematically and thoroughly. We are on the receiving end of whatever was good in their lives – we are not their victims when we enjoy their creations.
    Of course, we can feel empathy for the victims, or even anger towards these artists. But does it mean we can’t nuance and at the same time sing along to Thriller, or revere Guernica?

    It just so happens that whether we want it or not, we are surrounded by inventions and artworks that came from extremely problematic people, hundreds of time a day, without even knowing it. But we can take the pit away and eat the fruit.

  19. As A S says below you cite all these reasons not to go to the Picasso exhibition (all understandable and valid) and then reduce a ‘review’ of the Joan Jonas exhibition to such a bland adjective as ‘beautiful’. Try harder next time.

  20. Interesting. Up to this point in the conversation, no one has mentioned Picasso’s involvement in the peace movement. Check it out.

      1. I think Picasso was faking his politics, too. I don’t think his ‘Communism’ can be taken as anything but a theatrical stance, something to help with the public relations and advertising.

  21. I loved the Picasso exhibit. Seeing what he did in one year has actually inspired me to do more. You are judging someone from another epoch by the standards of yours.

  22. Thank you for sharing your perspective! It is so close to mine… I have been appalled by Picasso as a human being, and have never understood why his work is visually engrained so early in our young minds, before we’re even able to have an opinion about it. “Guernica”. Yeah yeah yeah…I hate the man he was (Marina Picasso’s accounts left me flabbergasted, a few years ago) and find his work vastly overrated. I usually cannot stand artists/people with overwhelming egos, no matter how good they are at what they do, pretension repulses me. I’m fed up with the never-ending, almost hysterical Picasso infatuation… Dislike his work, dislike the man even more. Less Picasso, more Joseph Cornell (for instance ;))!!!

    1. Caravaggio was a murderer – does that make him a bad painter? I don’t think so.
      “I usually cannot stand artists/people with overwhelming egos, no matter how good they are at what they do” which in essence means you are not able to judge the work. So your view has nothing to do with art, just with how you feel about someone you’ve read about.
      The defenders of Picasso’s work are interested in art. If you knew anything of history you would know that beauty and invention aren’t necessarily borne of virtue – often quite the reverse!

      1. No, I am able to judge one’s work, and work only, according to my own taste, visual sensitivity and according to whether it touches me or not. As for as Picasso, his work does not touch me in the least, plus I find the man despicable ==> I’m simply weary about the fuss about him. That’s about it. I don’t usually go and judge someone’s work according to their private lives and actions.

    2. Joseph Cornell was the real genius, if there is such a thing. But, being a quiet recluse who lived on Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York, instead of blowing his ego among the rich, it’ll be another century before he’s recognized by the Art World.

  23. The reason I didn’t go to the Picasso was that it wasYET ANOTHER Picasso exhibition. He was undoubtedly a game-changer, with the more intellectual[?] Braque. Cubism changed the course of art. But beyond that….his work went over similar ground endlessly. There is no reason why an artist’s output could be just like a diary [Over his life he produced the equivalent of 3 works for every day of his life] , so long as you don’t expect anyone else to be interested in it.
    The trouble is he was lionised by Gertrude Stein [whom he said never understood his work!] and then by many others.
    In his private life he was appalling; but lionisers don’t want to hear that about their heroes.

  24. I’m dismayed by the (lack of) copy editing of this article. As other readers have already pointed out, in the very first sentence, “incredibility” should be “incredulity.” Having an error in the very first sentence does not help your case!

  25. This is a resentful, snarky essay, nothing more and nothing less. It starts with the author’s failure to consider the idea that any of the women (or the children) in the life of the ruthlessly ambitious, cruel, merciless and misogynist Picasso had agency. Really? No agency at all? None of of these women knew what they were getting into? None of them loved him? None of those suicides came from anything other than mean Picasso? None of the people around him got one damn thing from being around him?

    More, the the overall ho-hum tone of the article conveying the idea that Picasso was good, but hey, really, what’s the fuss all about, betrays a profound ignorance of the revolutionary pictorial revolution Picasso and Braque effected, and the enormous number of 20th- and 21st-century artists who picked up on its meaning, ran with it, and are still running with it. And this woman calls herself an art historian? Like Meyer Shapiro? Or Irving Sandler, or the great Ernst Gombrich? God help Academe.

    What’s truly awful, however, is the casual dismissal of the idea of genius. Genius is an idea that’s been around since the Renaissance (hello Leonardo) and was admittedly overly glorified in the 18th century. That said, banning the idea of genius simply because that’s the popular postmodern trope requires argument; mere chirpy assertion just doesn’t cut it.

    Soboleva writes, “But let’s stop the glorification and consider the consequences of blindly upholding certain artists on the high pedestal of art history and hanging on to the outdated notion of ‘genius.'” Um, say what? Michelangelo and [name your favorite second-rate realist] are somehow equals? Picasso and Joan Jonas are equals? Seriously, I have a hunch Joan Jonas would squirm at the way she’s being dragged into this.

    The author betrays her ignorance of culture by the fact that she is stuck on a Romantic idea of genius, without any understanding of how nuanced that original idea really was. She needs to read Leonardo, for starters, and then to understand the Romantic idea of genius in full, she needs to read Goethe and Schiller. In particular, she should read Schiller’s “Naive and Sentimental Poetry,” a great treatise on the idea of individual genius. There she’d learn a) that it just might exist; b) that the times bring it out; and c) that understanding there are different kinds of genius helps us in getting at the meaning of the greatest works of art in our culture.

    Finally, to understand Picasso requires an understanding of visual matters–something the author doesn’t begin to seem to be in possession of. That Picasso’s collage breakthrough was not remotely of the same order as Victorian women playing around with little pasted pictures is the giveaway. Please spare me.

    Besides, as Picasso himself said, ordinary artists borrow, great artists steal.

    1. Exactly, Hannah Gatby – to whom this writer refers – also seems somewhat clueless on the pictorial elements of Picasso (while better versed in the biographical). She says something like “Picasso painted the subject from different perspectives – that’s great but what about from the woman’s perspective” It is truly cringe-worthy when you realise how unschooled these guys are on what was being done artistically but feel empowered to share their ‘expert’opinions on how a historic artist should be de-canonised because they don’t make great role models for kids. Apart from anything else it fails to understand the complexity and paradoxicality of the human project – the reason art is made at all.

      1. The scary part is that these people are typical of new “scholars” coming down the pike. By the way, were they to read my comment, what they would probably never guess is that I am a woman.

  26. Ohhh, Soboleva! You make great points in this crafty non-review – some of which I agree with albeit for slightly different reasons. But, I do wish that you had seen Tate’s Picasso show prior to penning your perspective. Having seen it twice, and each time with a good measure of bias, I’m salivating over the new ways of seeing Picasso that you might have shared.

  27. I saw the Hannah Gatsby show, I took her point but she seemed to know more about Picasso’s biography than his work. To dismiss his work because he was an asshole is a joke. This writer is even less convincing and far less articulate. Quite apart from all the misinformation and fumbled reasoning – and the frankly idiotic assessment that Picasso’s ticket price reflected a gender representation imbalance – she has written an unlettered piece about her own failure to understand not just Picasso, but art in general. Why would this crapola be published?

  28. TV ads with ‘adult material’ eh? It’s telling that Soboleva places re-mediated biography as a central influence on her own myth of origin.

    Two observations:
    Firstly, the construction of Picasso as crime against the powerless by the ‘institutions of art’ wilfully ignores the reception of his work amongst his frequently powerless contemporaries. Two generations of artists from all over the world found their own practices compelled to respond to what Picasso’s works proposed, positioning their own stylistic identities in relation to his. That so many other creative individuals adopted Picasso’s formal innovations as their procedural model now seems a far more alien phenomenon than Picasso’s serial monogamy. Fun task: Construct a list of all the visual artists whose works, made during Picasso’s lifetime, announced their attention to Picasso’s artworks either stylistically or conceptually. Include not only painters and sculptors but graphic designers, film-makers, architects and the workers in the wider ‘design industries’. Stop when you get bored.

    Secondly, I was struck by the comment that an exhibition of Picasso could not explore the notion of female agency because Marie-Therese Walter ‘only functions as the object and has no agency of her own’. What of Walter’s own performativity? Even the most banal popular narrative of her relationship with Picasso suggests that she was an unconventional young woman compared to her peers. Self-evidently Walter’s agency was constrained in multiple ways; some of these constraints were historically-specific, some reflect Picasso’s narcissism, some have only recently been addressed in the wider culture. But in the context of the ‘heteronormative bourgeois expectations’ of young women in early 20th century Europe she appears quite precociously individualistic. Or, if Walter’s own statements on her relationship with Picasso are to be dismissed as expressions of her ‘false consciousness’ (the classic agency-erasing move in criticism) then Picasso’s own view of things, as a complicated, paradoxical field of collaboration and exploitation enacted between self-aware agents, is extensively depicted in the Vollard Suite. The monstrous artist and the lover-model of these etchings are repeatedly represented sharing and discussing their responses to the chaotic, Dionysian transformations that appear before them. Sometimes the artist prescribes interpretation, whispering into the model’s ear, but just often the model unselfconsciously casts her own sceptical gaze over the productions of art.

    Soboleva has arrived at her position by indexing biographical accounts of the dangerous consequences of Picasso’s social relationships against a discourse in which female agency is argued as structurally impossible, her case conveniently underwritten by the patronising comments of modern male newspaper critics who, for the sake of painless middlebrow consumption, also have ‘skin in the heroic biography game’. As such, her analysis is more an interpretation of the history of popular culture than the history of picturing. Of course it’s not compulsory to valorise Picasso, but Soboleva’s assumption that Picasso’s posthumous reputation is an obstacle to the creativity of others, and the views of those of her interlocutors who offer versions of ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about’, significantly underestimate the agency of the objects Picasso formulated, an agency that substantially took place well in advance of the construction of the Picasso myth. More significantly Soboleva’s position assumes that an increasingly outdated, inflexible and parochial feminist canon (every undergrad’s cherished master-narrative) can predict what these works must be ‘about’, although on this occasion she fails to interrogate the artworks themselves even for confirmation of the theoretical position she invokes.

    As Sobolova asserts, Picasso’s death does not preclude his work being ‘accountable’ to frames of ethical behaviour largely unthought during his lifetime. But if this proposition is supportable, analysis can only occur in relation to Picasso’s statements, and those of Walter, and the those of earlier generations who responded to his work as somehow foundational to their own projects. In the first instance these must be assumed to fully-engaged enunciations of the viewpoints of generally rational actors. ‘Rethinking an art historical narrative’ first requires the suspension of previous interpretive frames including those sympathetic to moral action, and a respectful return to the evidence of actions, depictions and textual exposition in the historical record. At a glance, these seem to suggest that 1. Picasso’s works were once significant to the wider visual culture in ways that many contemporary viewers can’t now empathise with, and 2. The limits of Walter’s agency or otherwise could be described without undue difficulty.

  29. If you had actually taken the time to question your own preconceived ideas far enough to get into this exhibition you would have seen how precisely this issue was taken into account by the curators. What the exhibition showed was a complicated relationship between Picasso and Marie-Thérèse. By no means was the former shown to be faultless. By zeroing in to this particular year, the works and the texts included in the show developed a more nuanced look at Picasso’s misogynistic behavior – toward his wife Olga and his lover. If we are going to try, collectively, to understand how the balance of power has favored men and male artists, this kind of careful and considerate perspective of the past is what is necessary, not a blind and uninformed opinion. I can appreciate your anger, but I really hope it won’t distort the real work of being a historian and of promoting women artists.

  30. Kubrick and Hitchcock were misoginist monsters on the set, Ed Wood was a very nice guy…
    Caravagio was a murderer, Céline a nazi…

  31. I was interested at the way people seem to separate the man from his art as if his misogyny didn’t come through. My first Picasso exhibition was when I was in my teens in the sixties (actually in the Tate). I knew nothing about art history or his importance but was very aware of his attitude to women just by seeing his work and have never really enjoyed or been stimulated by it because it made me feel denigrated.
    She acknowledged his stature and importance but doesn’t like his treatment of women. Of course he’s important and we don’t dismiss Caravaggio for being a murderer but his behaviour was certainly not seen as an acceptable in his time. The fact that he is seen as a great and influential artist should not prevent us from being critical.

  32. A strongly expressd but rather bitter piece which for me lost credibility when criticising Tate for charging an exhibition by Picasso, who is undeniably a major (and expensive!) 20th Century artist and a name virtually synonymous with “artist”, at a higher price than for Joan Jonas – seemingly on the sole basis that he is male and she is female?

    The personality and behaviour of the man are undeniably open to major reservations, but to move on to disparage his place in art history by making trivial points, such as that about Victorian collages, cannot be a valid conclusion from her exposition of his behaviour. As Picasso had it (possibly mis-attributed) “Good artists copy; great artists steal”. Picasso openly derived work from African and other sources shamelessly. Skilfully employing a technique, a meme, a trope, and launching it into the culture, is not invalidated because the artist did not “come up with it” from nowhere. The neglected place of women in art history and their lack of exposure cannot be laid at the feet of male artists, unless there is evidence that they suppressed women themselves to further their careers.

    And I don’t know any other way to set a price on art (or theatre or restaurant meals or music or poetry) than “what people will pay”! In any case the solution to the price problem is to become a Tate member, which is surely worthwhile – and tax deductible for a curator and adjunct professor!- even if Ksenia only visits London twice a year.

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