Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Am Not the First to Downgrade Picasso

I went to the Metropolitan Museum today and ended up perusing some of the moderns. They had several Picassos.

Is it a mark of greatness that Picasso's sum is always so much greater than his parts? Perhaps. But it may also be a sign that he was having one over on us--and persistently had the guts to pull it off.

Look at the sloppy stuff he puts up as a wreath around the woman's head, and the blobby way he plops the paint around her arms. And the cartoonish colors on the purple splotch of nude.

Look at the crudeness of the brushstrokes depicting the red-faced man with a lollipop. Surely he cannot be serious. He is saying: "Here you are--its just what I felt like doing and I am going to make you like it."

Deconstructed, his paintings nearly always fall apart--after his blue and rose periods, after his Desmoiselles, his work--from the 1930s onward--are crude, oversimplified, addled, as if by rote (yes, another plastic transformation).

Yet there is a raw power that continues to stun in spite of the fact you know you are being had. And there is no denying that, once you stand back, you see his true mastery is in composition.

You cannot look closely at his work. You have to stand back and let it emanate its power from a distance.

Do I sometimes think he was a fraud? Yes.

Do I still think his work is some of the most exciting of the 20th Century? Yes.