Picasso: Again and forever
I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my journal, and as such they are valid. The future will choose the pages it prefers.
— Pablo Picasso
THE big Picasso exhibition was here in Delhi, and now it is gone. But, fortunately, I was able to catch what was virtually the tail end of it some days ago. There it was in the galleries of the National Museum — why it was not shown at the National Gallery of Modern Art, where it properly belonged, is another story — fairly big spaces filled with works that by now one knows only too well. In a sense, seeing the exhibition was some kind of a return to these works, for one had seen many of them earlier, in the flesh in museums and collections abroad, or in print. But, then, one always returns to Picasso. For he was more than an icon of an entire century; he was one of its shapers.
brought to India through the efforts principally of the French Embassy
here, is how the show was named, and it did show, exactly as the title
promised, the extraordinary changes, those lightning turns, in Picasso’s
work over a long period of time: the Blue and the Pink Periods; the
Negro Period; Cubist work; the Crystal Period; the return to classicism;
work between the wars; the later, immeasurably mature, phases. There
were the oils, and the prints, of course; but also, brought in
thoughtfully, were those few but famous sculptures that he fashioned
from time to time — the Goat, the Bicycle Seat and Handle, the Trowel
placed upon a Head — and some ceramics that he so loved to make at one
time in his life. But there was no confusion in the presentation, no
haphazard putting of works together. It all followed a clear logic, not
necessarily or alone of chronology, but of style, and of evolution.
What I did not like about the show was the bare, somewhat cold, look of the galleries: at places one felt as if one was walking through a hospital ward. I also had reservations about the manner in which the labels were placed: the paintings along the walls were rightly distanced from the viewer by a railing placed about two feet from the wall, but the labels became, because of this, very hard to read, for they remained on the wall, set very close to the works themselves. But all this is sheer carping, perhaps. What was so refreshing — to balance all this, in some way — was the visitor-ship to the show. I was there early on a Sunday morning, and there were a number of people around: mostly young, and eager. And some of the sights one saw were quite wonderful — wonderful, because one comes upon them so rarely in our museums here —: people standing in front of information panels and reading them with great care; young pairs moving slowly from work to work, as if aware of the fact that what they were seeing were things of moment; parents bending to talk softly to their children, explaining, interpreting perhaps. I do not think it was merely the fame of the artist that was bringing these responses out: they could sense that what they were seeing was something majestic and elemental, the work of a man in whose belly a strange fire kept burning till the very end.
What else can I say about the show? To review it in a few words would be impossible; certainly pointless, because it would, by the very nature of it, be perfunctory. In the space left, therefore, perhaps I should simply share with the reader the fact that the show succeeded in sending me back to reading some more about the life of the man. The first book I picked up was Francois Gilot’s moving and delightful Life with Picasso. In that I found the passage in which Picasso speaks about his work in general, and from which the epigraph cited above is taken. To complete it, this is what he said:
"The future will choose the pages it
prefers. It’s not up to me to make the choice. I have the impression that time
is speeding on past me more and more rapidly. I’m like a river that rolls on,
dragging with it the trees that grow too close to its banks and dead calves one
might have thrown into it or any kind of microbes that develop in it. I carry
all that along with me and go on. … I have less and less time, and yet I have
more and more to say, and what I have to say is, increasingly, something about
what goes on in the movement of my thought. I’ve reached the moment, you see,
when the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself…."