My weekend wrapup: Picasso & Bernini

This weekend was a busy one. So much art in so little time wears me out, and I’m a firm supporter of the Put-More-Benches-In-Museums Movement, but the ones that the museums actually do have are never at great vantage points anyway. On Saturday we saw the Picasso Black and White exhibit at the Guggenheim and this morning it was the Met’s new Bernini: Sculpting in Clay show. I’m taking a whole class on the latter, which made it cool to actually be able to put all that tuition money to good use.

Picasso Black and White was a whole lot of the same, but not in a bad way – they almost saturate you in his shapes and forms till you feel like you have to shake it off to keep your face from getting out of whack. And although most of it was kept to the two shades listed, there were quite a few works that were colored everything from purple to blue to yellow, to the point where it might have been more appropriate to call it Picasso in Monochrome – although I suppose “black and white” sounds classier.

Pablo Picasso, The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas, after Velazquez)
August 17, 1957

Most of the pieces were profiles of women or girls “seated” or “reclining,” and it was so interesting to see him move from beautiful realist portraits to skewed, geometricized, sexualized ones, as his interpretation of the human form grew into abstract shapes both two and three dimensional. The three dimensional ones were some of my favorite, where the profile was constructed as a grouping of deep shapes, stacked and hanging on top of each other, sometimes with little eyes peeping out from somewhere unexpected and usually an obvious nose protruding.

Diego de Velazquez, Las Meninas, c. 1656

There were also beautiful renditions of compositions taken from artists that came before him, like “Las Meninas” by Velasquez and the “Rape of the Sabines”story that so many artists have interpreted since Rome’s founding. So many of the pieces looked like the roughest of sketches too, and some were only completed on one half of the canvas. The whole time I couldn’t stop wondering what Picasso would think of this great triumph he’s been built up into; if he’d be proud or embarrassed that all of us were looking at something he made on an unconscious whim that was never intended as a finished product.

They do a pretty good job letting you know that in the exhibit, but it still feels like so much of it is prep work for masterpieces we can’t see.

Bernini: Sculpting in Clay was a whole different universe of art – although both exhibits are heavily idolizing one individual’s contribution to the scene. It could just be because his 17th century time period can’t help but leave him wrapped up in mystery, but I’d choose Bernini over Picasso when it comes to inherent talent. I wish he could’ve lived in a different era though, outside the pope’s reign of power, but maybe then it would’ve turned out much differently and he wouldn’t have had the resources he did to create all that he was able to.

Faun teased by putti

This exhibit is the best you can do without actually going to Rome – on the wall are giant black and white photographs of the massive sculptural programs that actually made it into the palazzos and churches in Rome, out of the bozzetti planning stages on paper and in terracotta before you. The gallery is laid out underground, with two rows of lights above strategically pointed at each glass case containing a little red-brown masterpiece.

The curators did a really great job explaining everything to the viewer. You can see the thought process behind each piece as it develops from sketches to bozzetti to the giant black and white photographs on the walls. Because the sculptures are in the middle and the sketches are hung on the walls, the gallery ends up grouped into little clumps of the same character or type.

The angels that line the back aisle of the exhibit was one of my favorite groupings, since walking through these sculptural pairs that face each other and face you creates the greatest sense of environment, giving you one little glimpse of how it woulda-coulda-shoulda felt to see these pieces in all their finished-product marvelousness in Rome.