Picasso Museum: War and Peace


This was a superb exhibition at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. It was especially moving to see the Vallauris Chapel War and Peace panels recreated (Sarah & I saw these in situ several years ago), as well as the large Massacre In Korea painting.

From the exhibition summary:

‘…painting is not done to decorate apartments. It’s an instrument of War for attack and defense against the enemy.’ Pablo Picasso, Les Lettres françaises, 24/3/1943

The aim of the exhibition is to show those moments when the artist uses his work to echo his horror at the ravages of war. This horror was especially strong during the Spanish Civil War, when he was commissioned by the government of the Republic to paint Guernica for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937. With all the works that revolve around it, it has become a symbol of human suffering.

However, from Guernica on, a new symbolism in human representation appears in his work, particularly in his characterization of Maria-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, protagonists in Picasso’s life and work during these years, and who assume opposing identities, very close to the artist’s attitudes towards war and peace.During the Second World War, between 1943 and 1944, Picasso painted a series of still lifes in which he uses skulls to exorcise the sadness and pessimism of the war years, marked by the deaths of friends and relatives and the emergence of a cruel, violent world in which the premises he knew and understood were crumbling.

In the fifty or so drawings he did for the sculpture L’homme au mouton, an embodiment of the Christian Good Shepherd, evocative of the Mediterranean tradition, the humanism of his thoughts on the power of art over terror refers us to the context of war, in which the lamb is the incarnation of the victim and the shepherd the champion of peace and tolerance.

Two years later, in the summer of 1946, after the war had ended, he moved in with Françoise Gilot in Antibes and started on a new series of still lifes in which emblematic Mediterranean animals and birds radiate a new happiness and peace, endowing these works with an element of magic. The photographer Michel Sima gave him an owl, symbol of Antibes and of the goddess Pallas Athene. He included it in a number of the still lifes, in which it appears perched on a chair. This was, then, one of the elements which, like Pallas Athene herself, united wisdom and the victory of peace over war.

He joined the French Communist Party in October 1944 as part of his fierce defence of freedom and peace, which is expressed in his work at the time and reached its height with his participation in the Peace Conferences in Wroclaw in 1948, in Paris in 1949 and in London in 1950. The doves in his drawings and lithographs became an emblem of world peace.

Apart from the works for the Peace Conferences, in 1945 he started on the large panels War and Peace, which were installed in 1954 in a chapel in Vallauris after extensive preparatory work’.

See also

At War

At War

At War

On our second day in Barcelona, we went to CCCB for the At War exhibition. Tremendous – it would have repaid several return visits. Superb organisation, bringing out different themes. Very wide-ranging: included paintings, sculpture, photography, film and installation art.

At War ‘takes a long, hard look at what war is and how it affects the individual and society. This exhibition dissects the idea into discrete themes, beginning with the ‘socialisation of violence’ and how childhood games, fashion, entertainment and advertising affect our attitude to war, right the way through to ‘memory’ and the legacy of conflict’.

Bought the catalogue.

MACBA: Art and Utopia: Limited Action

MACBA: Art and Utopia: Limited Action

Robert Delaunay, Relief-disques, 1936

Robert Delaunay, Relief-disques, 1936

On our first day in Barcelona (and just prior to falling victim to the birdshit ploy and thus getting robbed – read the Rough Guide, it’s all in there!), went to see this very interesting exhibition in the beautiful MACBA building.

It was difficult to work out the common thread linking exhibits that included Buster Keaton and Eisenstein films, music by Erik Satie and Debussy, poetry, literature, as well as paintings and photography. But it was very absorbing.

Press Release:

Dates: From June 3 to September 12, 2004

“Limited Action” (L’action restreinte) is the title of an essay by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) compiled in Divagations in 1897. This formulation designates not only the limits but also the focus of poetic action. “Art and Utopia. Action Restricted” reexamines some of the key moments in the exchange between art and poetry in the twentieth century up until the end of the 1970s. The Mallarmean poetic serves here as a medium for a history of modern art in its relation with language and its dispersion.

Art and Utopia. Limited Action sets out to rethink the art of the 20th century from a review of the role of the poet Mallarmé in the construction of the pillars of contemporary creation. Throughout the 20th century two apparently antagonistic phenomena occurred, confronting the will for formal experiment with the tradition of trying to educate society in order to transform it. That is the dichotomy between Marx and Mallarmé, between politics and poetry, which, in the context of this exhibition, is considered a solved problem, since there can be an art which is both poetical and political at the same time. The only utopia is in language, in the limited action of the poetic act.

The exhibition will include 108 paintings, 36 sculptures, 340 works on paper, 140 photos, 24 films, as well as sound works and rare books, from, amongst others: Guillaume Apollinaire, Hans Arp, Georges Braque, André Breton, John Cage, Joseph Cornell, Edward Gordon Craig, Giorgio de Chirico, Claude Debussy, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Sergueï Eisenstein, Max Ernst, Walker Evans, Robert Flaherty, Jean-Luc Godard, Juan Gris, Vassily Kandinsky, René Magritte, Vladimir Maïakovski, Stéphane Mallarmé, Edouard Manet, Joan Miró, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, F. W. Murnau, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Man Ray, Odilon Redon, Roberto Rossellini, Erik Satie, Kurt Schwitters, Victor Sjöström, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Yves Tanguy Antoni Tàpies.

At the end of the nineteenth century, after the death of Victor Hugo, the poet can no longer claim to operate directly in the political arena or even designate himself as moral conscience. He can mention the world, but he cannot change it. His activity, however, is not purely contemplative. He realizes an action in a restricted but essential field, which does not belong to him but which he can reevaluate and even redefine. This is the field of language and languages; it is the space of the book as a “spiritual instrument.”

In March 1970, the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, also coming from the poetic field, declared: “Mallarmé is the source of contemporary art. He unconsciously invents modern space.” Broodthaers was thinking above all about the word constellation constructed in Un coup de dés (1897). After its belated publishing in book form (1914), the poem effectively became the prototype for all investigations in the confluence of poetry, typography and visual art. Appollinaire’s calligrams, contemporary with cubist papiers collés, the Futurists’ words in liberty, and the word as such of Russian poets are derived almost directly from this poem or differentiate themselves from it through a dynamic of avant-garde radicalization.

This genealogy continues with the emergence of concrete poetry in the 1950s. Plein air impressionism since Manet and the prismatic structure of post-Cézannean cubist painting represent two poles of the Mallarmean poetic. At the same time, the fantastic of Odilon Redon turned to the idea of suggestion, which defines symbolism as well as description and literary narration. The dialogue between art and poetry also opens onto other forms of visual creation such as in photography and film. Beyond that abstraction called “geometric,” the emphasis on the essential constituents of painting – point, line, plane, and color – participates in a speculation on the genesis of form that has much in common with poetic language.

Nevertheless, as Duchamp’s extra-pictorial activities indicate, the resonance of the Mallarmean poetic exceeds the genealogies of poetry and the visual arts. Mallarmé was also interested in music and the arts of the stage (theatre and dance) while refuting the Wagnerian model of the total work of art. Mallarmé had already imagined an anthropological reconciliation of modern art, liberated from religious representation. But that union was revealed to be just as precarious as the practice of poetry. In the 1930s, the distressing pressure of the times made the model of myth return to the debates as well as attempts at the synthesis between rationalist utopias and a somewhat reasoned neo-primitivism, between constructivism and surrealism.

Immediately after the Second World War, Antonin Artaud’s return to poetry corresponds to a necessary strengthening of the myth about the “restricted action” of line and expression. In 1933, Artaud had defined Mallarmé’s exemplariness: “Nothingness that is infinitely worked out after having passed through the finite, the concrete and the immediate; music based on nothingness since the sonority of syllables affects one before understanding its meaning.” With the war and the concentration camps, nothingness acquired a resonance of terror and the inhuman.

In the 50s and 60s, the publication of Correspondence and fragments on the Book occurs concurrent with the introduction of the linguistic model in the humanities and the emergence of the artistic culture of the neo-avant-garde. Roland Barthes describes a common “structuralist activity” in literature, music and the visual arts. The impersonality extolled by Mallarmé ends in “the death of the author”. The book, “total expansion of the letter” (Mallarmé), continues to be the countermodel to the media of mass communication, but it has lost its sacred dimension due to contamination: it has been vulgarized. At the end of the 70s René Daniels’s painting La Muse vénale, modeled on a poem by Baudelaire, indicates the exhaustion of the cultural alternatives proposed by the neo-avant-gardes. It likewise shows the actuality of a poetic gaze that knows how to detect the anachronisms of the present. “Poorly informed,” Mallarmé writes, “is the one who proclaims himself his own contemporary.”


See also