Contemporary Reactions On Display at Museo Picasso

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Appropriation of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Image by Joan Murphy, all rights reserved.

The Museo Picasso features an intriguing exhibition of contemporary reaction to the influential legacy of Pablo Picasso until June 2014, accompanied by an extensive and valuable catalogue.

Art lovers will treasure the book not only for the historical information contained therein, but also for the unique way that the curator Michael Fitzgerald sought out and arranged the eclectic collection.

It is better to read about or view the entire traditional collection contained by the Museo Picasso before approaching the interpretative journey through the Contemporary Reactions contained in the Post Picasso Exhibition. This preparation offers insight into the profoundness of these artists’ challenging ideas about the traditional establishment of modern art.

Organizing the Post-Picasso Exhibit

To achieve the complex task of bringing together a vast variety of cultural voices, Fitzgerald designed five structures; enabling him to provide lenses through which to view distinctly defined areas of Picasso’s oeuvre. This structure acts to focus the International body of richly layered artworks.

The curator notes in the book that his purpose was to gauge whether “the artist’s work and reputation have had an substantial impact on contemporary art since Picasso’s death in 1973.” The body of work also brings clarity to issues that surround the role of the artist in a globalised 21st Century.

Contemporary Reactions is not just a “critique of, and a challenge to, the steady deep questioning of the economic, political and social processes experienced by contemporary global humanity,” as explained by Fitzgerald; the exhibition also facilitates an intriguing conversation about the nature of the art world itself.

It is a surprisingly positive and affirming exhibition, where voices sing the praise of Picasso, not just for the legacy of method, symbolism and motif but also for creating an accepting intellectual space for non-western cultures of the International art community.

Gathering Together Voices of Contemporary Reaction

The five foci around which reactions and responses cluster are:

    1. Guernica.  Paris (May – 4 June 1937). Oil on canvas. (349.3 x 776.6 cm) Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid.
    2. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Paris  (June – July 1907). Oil on canvas  (243.9 x 233.7 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
    3. The early Blue (1901 until 1904) and Rose Periods (1904 until 1906).
    4. Picasso’s early involvement with and experimentation through an association with Surrealism throughout the 1920s.
    5. The work of his last active years. (Picasso worked into his nineties and died in 1973).

The grand collection hails from America, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Australia and Africa; the artists used Picasso’s insights as a springboard from which to launch onto their own creative trajectories. They explore and respond to his insights, sense of justice, questioning of the horrors of war, techniques, themes and symbolic referents.

The exhibition unveils the way one artist such as Picasso can influence a whole river of artistic output and how he was able, through a community of interaction, to empower and enable the emergence of contemporary culture.

This is a rare opportunity to see Picasso’s work afresh through the eyes of others who have their own way of seeing the world. The structures provided by Fitzgerald lead the audience toward a more comprehensive understanding of modernity.

Expect to stand in wonder as you grapple with the breadth of interaction and influence that the impact of Picasso’s experiments have had on the development of various styles of communication taking place within the context of a wider, freer International community.

Models for Deep Questioning

Picasso provided a way for previously excluded cultures to engage with the West in conversation so that they could critique their own position in relation to Western tradition as well as introspectively reflect on their own immersion in personal culture.

Fitzgerald included the work of Maqbool Fida Hussain, Atul Dodiya and Zhang Hongtu, because they exemplify bold and daring unapologetic appropriation. Hongtu is a Chinese artist based in New York, but born in Pingliang, China. He works in a variety of media such as painting, sculpture, collage, ceramics, digital imaging and installation.

Dodiya (1959- ) is a figurative painter in India. Hussain (1915-2011), based in Pandharpur, India, was a painter and film director associated with 1940s Indian modernism.

Zhang Hongtu’s Appropriation

Zhang Hongtu created a powerful and thought-provoking canvas questioning the psychology of dictatorship that so often came to prevail during the 20th Century and that persists across the world today. The work called Mao After Picasso does not literally critique Picasso. Hongtu unashamedly appropriated Picasso’s purported depiction of the hypnotic power of modern self-worship.

When discussing this work, Fitzgerald draws our attention to Picasso’s depiction of women in the 1930s as “cosseted creatures either reclining in neurotic self abandon or absorbed in self-contemplation.” The interior backdrop to the silent drama is drawn in tightly around Mao as he gazes into a mirror. The chairman is on display to the world and yet he is still trapped within his own chosen self-representation.

By appropriating Picasso’s illustration of this theme and relating his imagery to a real photo of Lu Xiangyou, (Mayo Reviewing the Red Guard) the artist draws us into a dialogue about the self-obsession of modern dictatorship. Zhang Hongtu weaves a lampooning image of a man hemmed in by his own ego. He clearly does this to ridicule Chairman Mao.

He further adds to this sad aura by using the symbols of the massive doors to the Beijing’s Forbidden City and the Imperial Lantern. This is a portrait of a man so ensnared by his own importance that he has no room to even raise his own in salute. This is a clever and highly effective appropriation.

Fitzgerald says that artists from countries such as China, India, Africa and Latin America do not appear to have seen Picasso as a talent who represented oppressive cultural dominance. Rather, many of the thinkers such as Dodiya and Armando Marino see Picasso’s explorations as manufacturing a rupture in the fabric of semiotica, which allowed “other” artists to break through into Western culture, and into the politics of the Western Art world.

Armando Marino’s Western Art

An extremely talented painter, Armando Marino, painted the most striking and blatant representation of “entering the Western art world through Picasso.” The painting is called The Secret Entrance II. (cat 13 1999) This photo-real painting shows an African man literally entering the art scene through the classic painting entitled Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. 

There is a theme winding through the exhibition evidencing an incredible admiration for the integrity and loyalty Picasso possessed for his country. Their admiration seems to be strengthened further by his overt capacity to hold to truth and resist societal suppression.

Iconic Paintings Post-Picasso

Guernica is a mainstay of the conversation, but we also see critique of war and social disharmony through other iconic paintings like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (fig1 cat 53 1907) and First Steps (fig3 1943). The appropriation of such a wide range of paintings makes it clear that we recognize Picasso for much more than the tenacious courage he showed when he painted Guernica. (fig p23 1937)

Picasso held on to truth at great personal risk in occupied France and was persistent in his resistance to all pressure refusing to allow the mural’s return to the Casón del Buen Retiro in Madrid in 1981 after the Spanish deposed Franco and restored democracy

It is through his deliberate concrete example that others have been able to recognise the benefits to liberty that courageous acts of  “humanity united” and tenacious loyalty to one’s culture can engender. Picasso showed through Les Demoiselles d’Avignon that he was willing to dialogue with countries across the world and that willingness resulted in great gains when it enabled (not so secret) entrances into the exclusive field of the Modern Art World.

Through The Secret Entrance, Armando Mariño has exquisitely captured the plurality of Contemporary Art by portraying a traditionally dressed native African emerging from Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. 

Atul Dodiye and His Appropriation

Atul Dodiye, in the grand painting Lamentation (1997) cat.2,  has been able to capture interlocution between the old cultures of India and the modern results of Independence. Blatantly appropriating First Steps into a woven fabric of symbolic pageantry, Dodiye portrays Gandhi walking with his arm around a young boy.

The synthesis portrays an artist inspired by but moving on from Picasso’s message. The children take their first steps of independence without their father’s loving arms to support them.

Post-Picasso Exhibition at the Museo Picasso

If you do get the chance, the Post-Picasso Exhibition is worth seeing. For those unable to view it in person, the Exhibition Catalogue will probably become available through bookshops when the season is over. It is worth taking the time to become acquainted with this diverse range of artists and to muse upon the immense influence Picasso has on Postmodernity.

Picasso’s influence throughout the modern art world has been mutually beneficial and his influence will never dissipate, as his work has been the springboard for so much other influential work.


  1. says

    Dear Joan
    I really appreciate your review about the show an specially your paragraph about my work..I feel so happy about it..I just want to say thank you!
    PS.If you’re in NYC please pass by my solo show this moth at 532 Thomas would be on view until June 27.
    All the best.

  2. Joan Murphy says

    Hi Armando,
    Thank you – it is great to hear from you!
    I won’t be in NYC then but I wish you well.
    I would have really enjoyed that exhibition,

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