All San Franciscans are incredibly lucky right now. Not only has the weather taken an uncharacteristically sunny turn today, but for the next few months we all have access to some of the most incredible art work that the world has to offer. Currently, at SFMOMA is the wonderful Steins Collection which is full of artwork collected by Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael as well as Michael’s wife Sarah. The Steins, Gertrude in particular were prolific art collectors and their collection of the Parisian Avant-Garde are highlights from some of the best artists such as Matisse, Cezanne and Renoir.
Meanwhile (at my favorite SF Museum), the Legion of Honor is hosting a collection that makes my heart sparkle with excitement! The Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection is an exhibit dear and close to my heart. Dutch and Flemish works ALWAYS take me back to the summer I spent in Amsterdam in 2008 living on the Princengracht – steps away from the Rijksmuseum. This weekend I plan on seeing these great works from artists such as Gerrit Dou, Salomon Van Ruysdael and an absolute fave Jan Brueghel the Elder!
For now though, one of the most popular exhibits showing is the Picasso exhibit at the DeYoung Museum. Currently showing some of the greatest works from the Musée National Picasso, Paris – these paintings, sculptures and sketches were from Picasso’s own personal collection that he couldn’t bear to part with. I was lucky enough to view these pieces last weekend and I came away with a new appreciation and also fresh viewpoint of the infamous artist.
Most people have a love/hate relationship with Picasso and find his art either too esoteric or too indulgent. When it comes to Picasso you either love him…or you don’t. I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of Guernica and every time I see that painting I can’t help but want to cry out in solidarity for the war-torn figures. That painting can touch my soul in ways that I didn’t expect any Picasso to. But as far as his other paintings and sculptures, I never really felt as strong of a connection to any of his other work.
Then this past weekend at the Picasso Exhibit, I was surprised to have had such an intimate experience with the works on display. I felt through these paintings, that were Picasso’s personal and favorite works, that I really got a collective vision of his life, his women, his politics, his loves and his struggles with fidelity, inspiration and also his sexuality as he aged. Of course each painting on display is immersed in imagery, Spanish folklore and layers and layers of symbolism. Thats something that I most appreciate about Picasso – his freedom of work. He allows his audience to travel as deeply into his paintings as they would like to go. And frankly any direction that the viewer takes is justifiable and acceptable. There is no wrong answer with Picasso.
Surprisingly, I found myself connected with many of the works on display. However, some that particularly stuck with me were La Celestina and Nu Couché. La Celestina is the stereotypical “blue-period” Picasso. It is cold and eerie yet full of dimension. One of the interesting ideas behind this piece is that in Spain, it is believed that you can take possession of something or someone with a look. A hard glare is all it takes to suddenly become an “owner”. While the figure is blind with cataracts in one eye, this in no way diminishes her strength and her presence. She continues to glare out onto a figure out of our line of sight and still carries with her the power of possession through her eyes. I am in love with this painting! I love seeing figures (and women especially) that through a perceived “weakness” still carry an intense amount of strength.
Nu Couché is another painting that really stuck with me. This one depicts a sensuous post-coital lover gently sleeping while her voluptuous curves shine in the moonlight. During this time Picasso was married to Olga Koklova, a Russian Ballerina Dancer who through her bourgeois Russian connections, changed Picasso’s work and social life. Years into their marriage Picasso began a romantic affair with his 17-year-old model, Marie-Therese Walter. He often depicts her as the complete antithesis of his wife. Olga is personified through violent and aggressive colors and lines. Marie-Therese is soft, round, inviting and bright. She completely takes over Picasso as the muse and source of his erotic inspiration. As his lover he envisions her rounded curves emanating sexual energy and heat. These waves call out to him and to all other lovers who share this same voracity.
Not all is praise though. I wasn’t completely taken with all of Picasso’s works. The way he depicted the women in his life is cruel. One moment they are his sole inspiration and the next they become the weeping women, gone mad over his indifference. Many of them had nervous break-downs, lost their sanity and two committed suicide. I believe that he used them. He used all of their love and sincerity for his own benefit. It’s hard to be so admiring of an artistic genius yet at the same time so hateful of an infamous Lothario. And this specific dichotomy is why we the audience are still enthralled with Picasso today.