25 Sep 2010

Sandy reviews Picasso: Peace and Freedom

Sandy Moffat will review Picasso: Peace and Freedom (Tate Liverpool 21 May - 30 August
2010, Albertina, Vienna 22 from September - 16 January 2011, and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark 11 February - 29 May 2011) in the Autumn edition of Perspectives,
the magazine of Scotland's Democratic Left.

Picasso: Peace and Freedom at the Tate Liverpool reveals Picasso as a politically and socially engaged artist, actively involved in politics and the Peace movement. After the Second World War, Picasso, already widely recognised as the world’s greatest living artist, emerged as a celebrated political figure - he was probably the most famous communist in the world - and hero of left-wing causes. He was a tireless campaigner for freedom and justice and his ‘Dove of Peace’ became the international emblem of the Peace Movement and a symbol of hope during the Cold War period. All of this proved acutely embarassing for the Western art world and as a result his political views were often ignored in the numerous exhibitions and publications produced during his lifetime and afterwards. The huge London exhibition at The Tate Gallery in 1960, organised by his friend and biographer, Roland Penrose, made no reference whatsoever to Picasso’s communist sympathies. If mentioned at all, it was as if Picasso’s joining the party was merely a gesture, not to be taken too seriously.

The Tate Liverpool exhibition demolishes this myth and shows that Picasso was a
committed party member, supporting and funding a range of humanitarian causes.The catalogue reproduces a cheque for 1 million francs (approx 50,000 pounds in today’s money) which he donated to striking miners in the Pas de Calais in 1948. Peter de Francia, formerly Professor of Painting at the RCA interprets this extraordinary act of generosity as reflecting Picasso’s anarchist belief in sharing whatever one had. The exhibition’s chief curator, Lynda Morris, has assembled a wealth of new material and makes a direct link between his art and his politics. Picasso’s habit of precisely dating his works means that each can be alinged with world events that were unfolding at the time, whether the Fascist victory and dictatorship in Spain, the Liberation of France, the Algerian War of Independence or the Cuban Missile Crisis. In doing so Morris also dismantles John Berger’s influential thesis, put forward in his Success and Failure of Picasso (1966) that Picasso had retreated from the world during his later years: that he had sold out to wealth and fame: that his work after 1945 represented a decline.

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