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PICASSO AND AFRICA (article first published : 2006-02-7)

Due to open in the Standard Bank Art Gallery in Johannesburg at the end of the week (February 10), Picasso and Africa is the culmination of an intense collaboration between Iziko’s South African National Gallery and the Musée Picasso in Paris. It is sponsored by Standard Bank, the French Embassy, Air France and the French Institute of SA. The third in a series to show the work of European masters, it follows the earlier exhibitions of Marc Chagall (2000) and Jean Miró (2002).

Born in Málaga in Spain in 1881, Pablo Picasso painted his first oil painting, The Picador at the age of eight. At 15, he attended advanced classes at the Royal Academy of Art in Barcelona and spent many years in Paris where he lived from 1904 to 1947 before moving to the South of France. His co-founding of Cubism, with Georges Braque, is considered to be one of his most important contributions to the art world. Picasso’s Analytic Cubism period lasted from 1909 to 1912, following his Blue Period (1901-1904) and Rose Period (1905-1906).

Picasso’s art was strongly influenced by sexuality. Apart from numerous relationships, he married twice and had four children by three women. He died at the age of 91 having left a considerable body of work including an estimated 13,500 paintings, 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations and 300 sculptures.

The aim of Picasso and Africa is to display Pablo Picasso’s strong identification with the African continent. While he never visited Africa, he was inspired by its cultural vibe. After visiting Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero in 1907, he began to build up his own collection of African art and this was to amount to about 100 African artefacts during his lifetime.

However, those in the Musée Picasso are too delicate to travel and there are complications involved in borrowing items from Picasso family members. Therefore Picasso and Africa features African sculptures sourced from various South African collections which are believed to approximate works either in Picasso’s collection or those that he might have seen.

The African items are placed in the wide-open space of the central area of the gallery. If you stand among these masks and figurines and look through the gaps to the main area of the exhibition, it is easy to see the African influence on Picasso’s creative energy.

On show in Picasso and Africa are 113 works mainly featuring Picasso’s African inspiration created during the period 1906 to 1972. There are three paintings from the Musée National d’Art Moderne (Centre Pompidou) as well as three drawings from Picasso’s family and three works from South African galleries. The works range from simple sketches to major oils and sculpture.

The Picasso Museum only considers about 30 requests a year for loans of the artworks from all over the world. While this organisation will undertake to provide works for exhibitions elsewhere in the world, others are not. The sheer logistics of transporting hugely valuable artworks halfway across the world are daunting, to say the least. Frankly, if I were the custodian of works like these, I wouldn’t sleep until they were safely back under my roof!

The exhibition has taken three years to put together and congratulations are due all round for creating a fascinating and absorbing selection of work from this legendary artist. Several of Picasso’s paintings rank among the most expensive in the world and according to Artprice.com he heads the Top 10 Artists By Sales Turnover with a massive $89,642,208 and a top auction price of $16,6m.

There is a considerable educational component to Picasso and Africa which includes workshops and programmes. An educational supplement aimed primarily at Grades 10 to 12 also contains information for learners with special needs.

Picasso and Africa runs in the Standard Bank Art Gallery, corner of Simmonds and Frederick Street, Johannesburg, from February 10 to March 19. Phone 011 631 1889. Gallery hours Monday to Friday 08h00 to 16h30 (Saturdays and Sundays 09h00 to 16h00). Admission free.

The exhibition then moves to Cape Town to the Iziko South African National Gallery at Government Avenue, Gardens, where it will be on display from April 13 to May 21. Phone 021 467 4660. Gallery hours: Monday to Sunday from 10h00 to 17h00. Admission fee R10 (R5 children). Students and senior citizens free.

KZN art lovers will not be disappointed if they make the effort to attend the exhibition in either city. ArtSMart acknowledges the BusinessDay Art special edition Africa hosts Picasso dated February 2006. – Caroline Smart




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