Installation view of Picasso Sculpture. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 14, 2015–February 7, 2016. © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Pablo Enriquez
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The praise for the recent Museum of Modern Art exhibition, boldly but simply entitled Picasso Sculpture, contained one superlative after another. Roberta Smith, writing in the New York Times, asserted of the show that “Many exhibitions are good, some are great and a very few are tantamount to works of art in their own right — for their clarity, lyricism and accumulative wisdom.” Peter Schjeldahl told his New Yorker readers that he felt Picasso was likely “more naturally a sculptor than a painter,” though “all his “training and early experience, and by far most of his prodigious energy, went into painting.” Such claims as these mean that their subject occupies an immense place in the canon of great artists, and a pivotal position in the long stretch of art history. Though known for his nearly stupefying reputation as the master modernist painter, and now also as Picasso the genius sculptor, we need not let his repute become the be all and end all of our ways of looking at, and measuring the weight of, this complex individual (I almost said phenomenon). There have been negative assessments before this; John Berger’s The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965), for example, remains a book well-worth reading. But the amount of laudatory print on the subject, in popular and academic idioms, grows a bit more daunting every year.

More… “Measuring Genius”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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Collection of Jasper Johns. © Charly Herscovici -– ADAGP – ARS, 2013. Photograph: Jerry Thompson.

Have you ever felt odd? Perhaps an odd feeling came upon you one morning at the market. You saw the piles of vegetables and the cuts of meats covered in clear plastic. You noticed, with particular attention, the little signs above the individual fruits giving their names and prices. Suddenly, it seemed unaccountably odd that any of this should make any sense to anyone. How very strange that these numbers and words and pictures and physical objects are all related, you thought. It was a warm morning and you walked out into the sunlight with a beating heart and a sheen of sweat on the palms of your hands. For a few more moments you trusted neither sun, nor earth, nor sky. All aspects of reality seemed as arbitrary to you as those signs above the fruit in the market. And then the feeling faded and you were back in the… More…

The power of the mid-twirl.

Surrealism isn’t surreal anymore. It doesn’t shock or jolt. It isn’t confusing or upsetting. If anything, the works of Surrealism have taken on a quaint charm. This would surely have annoyed its practitioners. The great theorist of Surrealism, André Breton, thought of himself as a revolutionary. He once wrote, “Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.” Like most big talkers, he was wrong. Surrealism didn’t ruin anything or solve anything either.

“Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography, and Paris.” Through May 9. International Center of Photography, New York, NY.

Surrealism did its best,… More…

Wide eyes. Mustache. Jeweled cane. Ocelet.

Salvador Dalí was skating on thin ice. It was a shtick and he was doing his shtick. He would open his eyes wide and give the patented Dalí stare. Surrealism. Granted, Andre Breton was never exactly a paragon of personal dignity but at least there was something at stake in the early days. By the end, Dalí was nothing but a parody of the thing he’d created of himself.

But it isn’t all crap, and that’s the revelation at the heart of the new exhibition “Dali: Painting & Film” (now leaving the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for St. Petersburg, Florida, and then MoMA this summer). Somewhere between the posing and the vamping and the recycling of tired imagery he created something. It was a new kind of landscape and, I think, a new kind of realism. The technique was relatively simple. He took the luminosity from some of… More…