Cover of Picasso Sculpture, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


After this past winter’s wonderful Henri Matisse exhibition, The Cut-Outs, at the Museum of Modern Art, visitors can discover another exceptional exhibition of another major artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso (Born in Malaga, Spain 1881 — Died in Mougins, France 1973). The exhibition is a full-scale survey of the artist’s sculptures.

In 1967, 6 years before Picasso’s death, the Museum of Modern Art opened the first exhibition of Picasso’s sculptures ever to be shown in this country. At that time, the majority of the works was loaned by the artist from his own collection. The 1967 MOMA press release mentioned with enthusiasm and great admiration: “This immense panorama of his diverse styles in sculpture has now been assembled as the protean work of one man, and it will make clear to all that this aspect of his work can be considered a major element in his vast production. The current exhibition has at last given the opportunity to acclaim Pablo Picasso as a great sculptor and yet another reason to admire and wonder at the contribution he has made to our vision and our understanding of reality”.

Forty-eight years later, the MOMA offers us the opportunity to see a very large number of the three-dimensional works of Picasso which the artist decided to keep for the majority in his private possession during his lifetime. So it is for a good part thanks to the collaboration of Musée national Picasso-Paris (state institution established after Picasso’s death) which lent about 50 pieces that this exhibition is possible.

The show is organized into eight chronological chapters and occupies the entire fourth floor of the MOMA which usually houses the permanent collection for the postwar division. The 140 sculptures here were made between 1902 and 1964 and show the large diversity of materials and techniques used by Picasso with an absolute creative freedom. Each chapter discloses the progress of Picasso’s practice as a sculptor: distinct periods of concentration interrupted by intervals of greater or lesser duration, followed by works that have no evident relation to those that preceded them.

When Pablo Picasso was young, he pursued a rigorous program of traditional academic study and was trained as a painter. But he was self-taught as a sculptor. Picasso’s commitment to sculpture was episodic rather than continuous but we could wonder if Picasso was not more completely himself in three dimensions works with a need of constant reinvention and with an extreme freedom in thinking about what is a sculpture.

The exhibition opens with Picasso’s earliest works (1902–1909) including his first sculpture, Seated woman, made in Barcelona in 1902, when he was 20 and it finishes with the revolutionary sheet metal sculptures (a popular material for both design objects and utilitarian purposes) from 1954 to 1964. The exhibition also presents the first cubist bronze, Head of a Woman, 1909 which represents an initial, concentrated effort to realize Cubist principles in three dimensions. The following chapter continues with the cubist constructions (1912 -1915) with six unique version reunited of the Glass of Absinthe (1914). The next gallery shows sculptures that Picasso imagined in relation to his project metal models for a Monument to Apollinaire (1928). Then the exhibition moves ahead with the Boisgeloup sculptures studio from 1930 to 1932 with incredible series of female and phallic heads. The following chapter, presented with darker wall, goes next with sculptures created during the second war (1939–1945), period during which Picasso was designated “degenerate” by the Nazis. The exhibition lights up with Vallauris’s ceramics and assemblages (1945–1953) and with the sculptures created from 1952 to 1958 with a beautiful set of Bathers, wood totem hieratic sculptures.

Early on, sculpture is for Picasso at the crossroads between painting and drawing. Sculpture is painting cut out in the canvas or drawing in the space. “The degree of invention and techniques that he used introduced brand-new ideas that had not been involved in the making of sculpture before” said Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, co-curator of the show.

Lastly, it is important to mention that this amazing exhibition is very well thought out in terms of circulation, museography and scenography. It is such a pleasure to see such great works shown in their full simplicity in an uncluttered space.

“Picasso Sculpture” runs through February 7, 2016 at Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019–212–708–9400 —