Picasso in Contemporary Art at Deichtorhallen

Exhibition Deichtorhallen Hamburg 1.4.–12.7.2015

PICASSO IN CONTEMPORARY ART has just opened this last week before Easter at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. The Hamburger Abendblatt writes quite rightly about a »high-profile exhibition« coinciding with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the newly renovated hall. The show around »Picasso without Picasso«, yet including each and every renowned artist who has in some way been influenced by the French genius of the century, is the most complex show that has ever been installed at the Deichtorhallen. And it is, according to the concordant journalistic credo in the northern metropolis, pure »eye candy« illuminating the completely renovated hall with large-scale works by artists such as Robert Longo, Art & Language, Gary Hume and Roy Lichtenstein. Dirk Luckow, director of the Deichtorhallen, after all speaks of his »lust for art, for painting«, and »Picasso himself has engaged with many of his predecessors – this is the idea of Picasso we resume in the present day.«


Picasso in Contemporary Art
Dirk Luckow, director of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg
(excerpt of the forword)

The exhibition PICASSO IN CONTEMPORARY ART sheds light on the artistic reception of Picasso which had already begun in 1912, with Juan Gris’s cubist »Portrait of Pablo Picasso«. Picasso’s overabundant sensuality and power of imagination, and the wide stylistic and thematic range of his oeuvre have provoked responses from artists for over a hundred years. Picasso has been admired, but also hated; he has been celebrated, studied, and copied. Up until today, his painting and artistic individuality have still not been exhausted. The exhibition at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg is dedicated to the overwhelming spectrum of modern and contemporary artistic views of Picasso. The repercussions that this genius of the century had on contemporary art, which can be traced here in over 200 works by 87 artists, still continues to be underestimated. New, partly hidden, or even unexpected Picasso quotations render the image of his reception more and more nuanced. Far from the heroic contemporaneity of artists who directly shared and accompanied Picasso’s ardour and his path to international artistic fame, the exhibition comes to an intriguing conclusion. It exhibits current artistic positions which are simply unable to leave from Picasso, parts which initially seem completely unconcerned with him or, quite the reverse – in the tradition of appropriation art – which almost seem like Picassos, themselves, appearing dead level with their prototype but, at the same time, distinctly abstracted from it.

The hypothesis of the exhibition is that the great influence that Picasso’s art has today is because his work and his person cannot be separated; that through this his work appears exemplary. It has remained equally fascinating and relevant in terms of its political and formal aspects. Picasso’s biography, located between experiment with form, the battle of the sexes, and international politics; between ecstatically sensory feast, and tragedy, creates, with its almost universally recognizable aspects, associative bridges to those facets of his work which artists still continue to associate with Picasso today, and which play a role in the creation of their works, both content and narrative wise, as well as on a formal level. Consequently, the key factors in selecting works for the exhibition were quality, depth of contemplation, and the methodological approach in artistic dealings with Picasso.

Contemporary artists’ attitudes towards Picasso’s creations oscillate between veneration, intellectual assimilation, and reinterpretation; these attitudes thus resemble Picasso’s own interaction with visual prototypes and role models. The struggle with his own predecessors had driven the Spanish artist up to the very end – Picasso had a directly obsessive relationship with artistic discourse. In his fanatical mania for appropriation, he battled tirelessly, and in a virtuoso fashion, against the great masters of the past, such as Velázquez, Manet, Cranach, Grien, Poussin, David, El Greco, Courbet, Degas, and Rembrandt. He not only recreated Édouard Manet’s »Olympia«, but signed catalogues of his work with »Rembrandt«, or projected the »Night Watch« onto the wall of his studio in Mougins, in southern France.

The exhibition PICASSO IN CONTEMPORARY ART continues to build on this form of painterly dialogue: what applies to Picasso also applies to today’s artists. Their works are often anything but pious in dealing with their brilliant predecessor. While Picasso concealed the influence of other artists in his early work, only to emphasize it all the more in his late works, today’s artists place this influence in the foreground, as if the fascination for Picasso’s painting were more mysterious than ever; like a precious heritage in need of defence.

Like no other artist, Picasso embodies the art of the 20th century. Even before his death, he was a synonym for modernity in Western art, and many consider him the inventor of modern painting. Today, almost every child knows his name. This exhibition also seeks to counter fears that today, Picasso can only be grasped in terms of a mere cliché. In contrast to what many people perhaps think when they hear the name Picasso, his oeuvre remains so vivid precisely because of the high degree of artistic contemplation of it. Indeed, Picasso, his art, and his myth could not reappear in a more expressive and multi-faceted form than in this exhibition.