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Thursday, April 11, 2013

ARTING About...? Picasso and Africa -- Art Institute of Chicago - "The Picasso Effect - A museum-wide celebration of Pablo Picasso's legacy and influence"

by Robin Scott Peters

Image of Robin Scott Peters
When I first entered the Art Institute of Chicago I dashed to Gallery 137.  The program for The Picasso Effect listed it under RELATED EXHIBITIONS.  I was on edge due to a phone conversation I just had with a close friend.  He said Picasso was a racist because he never acknowledged the influence of Africa upon his art.

Image of an African Mask reminiscent of Picasso's Piece in Chicago
Gallery 137
Picasso, Paris, and African Art
"Comparable to works once owned by Picasso, these African artworks provide a catalyst for considering Picasso's collecting taste and the early development of an international African art market."

When you enter into the main Picasso exhibit you are greeted by the smaller sculpture and the superimposed photograph of the unveiling of the 50' 160 ton work.

Photo of small mock up of "Sculpture for Chicago" Similar to the African Mask shown earlier.

A photograph of the festivities at the unveiling August 15, 1967
A Sculpture for Chicago
The Richard J. Daley Center Sculpture (1963-1967) unveiled August 15, 1967.
Construction by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is 50' tall, 160 tons.

I couldn't help but notice more than just a passing similarity between the African piece and the finished work of Picasso.

Photo of museum exhibit African Mask with Grass Skirting and Draped Cape.

Photo of art exhibit African art with exaggerated bodies.

Cubism took shape around 1907.  The following work comes just prior to that period.  The sculpture raised at the Richard J. Daley Center was created during Picasso's later years (1963-1967).   The sculpture below started with a friend modeling and the "Jester" was created.  Picasso, throughout his career challenged himself in multiple mediums.  See his ceramic work below.

Photo of sculpture exhibit by Picasso.  It is a bust of a Jester

Post-Impressionism says AIC.
Photograph of Picasso's painting "Old Woman (Woman with Gloves), 1901." Exhibit held at AIC.
Old Woman (Woman with Gloves), 1901

These early works contain the dark colors, burnt orange, flat blues, seem similar to the colors found in the African Art.
Photograph of Picasso Painting in the AIC exhibit "Young Woman with a Hat Paris, 1900."
Young Woman with a Hat
Paris, 1900

Photograph of Picasso's painting "Self Portrait, 1906" exhibit at AIC.
Self Portrait, 1906 

Did you know that Picasso worked in Ceramics?   1946 he had a chance meeting with "Georges & Suzanne Ramie'.  Picasso was invited to visit Madoura Pottery in the village of Vallauris."  He produced over 1000 pieces in his first year working with ceramics.  

Photograph of several different ceramic items created at Madoura Pottery in the village of Vallauris.
Ceramic Collection

Photograph of the main entrance into The Picasso Effect exhibit
Walk up into the main exhibit.

Photograph of Picasso's painting "Woman with a Helmet of Hair Paris, 1904."
Woman with a Helmet of Hair
Paris, 1904

One of numerous galleries interconnected for "The Picasso Effect"
One of numerous galleries interconnected for "The Picasso Effect"

The influence of the African art is clearly apparent in the Richard J. Daley Center sculpture and in the sketches below.  Though colors and shapes from the African art influence permeates certain aspects of Picasso's work, it is just part of his myriad long-term medium exploration.

Photograph of Picasso's sketch "Six Busts of Women, 1962" at the AIC 2013.
Six Busts of Women, 1962

One could argue that Picasso's blending of human and beast follows the African art tradition.

sPhotograph of Picasso's work blending human and beast.

But African art isn't the only art to blend human and beast in works of art.

Photograph of an African wood sculpture blending human and animal.
The Ivory Coast

I was hard pressed to find any thing racist about what I experienced as a human.  Or as a black man.  Or as a conservative, at this exhibit.  The term racist, or racism is thrown around so freely today the meaning is watered-down.  Today, it seems, any "slight" can be politically fashioned into being labeled racism.  My very good friend who made this initial claim, is black and has a masters degree and holds a significant position in the government.  He told me, just as I was arriving in Chicago at the Art Institute, that Georges Braque admitted the trip to the Ivory Coast was his spark for Cubism.  My friend explained that Picasso did not do such a thing and thus was racist for not giving appropriate credit.  I am still doing research to find if this is even true--Braque's admitting and Picasso's not.  This was a significant collection of Picasso's work.  If there is one paralleling stylistic choice evident in the work of Picasso it is his alteration of image.  This is clearly evident in the African art.  Obviously, almost every piece of work Picasso produced, exaggeration of the human form is fundamental.

A photograph of a series of large African sculptures carved in wood.
Exaggeration of the Human form.  Motivation for Picasso?

I spent three hours at the exhibit.  Hardly enough time to scratch the surface.  I hope me and my Canon 550D was able to capture a little of the flavor of the exhibit.  The exhibit is open now through May 12, 2013.  I recommend it highly.  The combination of work, medium, and subject matter is a phenomenal experience. Travel the road a genius explored over a  lifetime of devotion.

Please visit: Twitter: @FilmRobin for up-to-date info on where I am travelling for ART. LinkedIn: for complete resume & work history. and look for Dr. Robin Scott Peters Ebooks now available. YouTube: for all my video work.