Picasso in Black and White
The Museum of Fine Art Houston sent me a letter saying that if I renewed my membership I could see the Picasso in Black and White show for free. I haven’t joined the museum since we were dragging our children there, (now they visit museums on their own) but I was glad of the reminder that this show was leaving town soon and I hadn’t seen it yet. I’m a sucker for these “blockbuster” exhibits. They allow me to see masterpieces from around the country and across the world without the trouble and expense of leaving town.
This show was a monster! Nearly one hundred paintings, drawings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso. I wasn’t ready for all this. Room after room, decades of artworks boggled my mind, and not just because I have a hard time with cubism. I’ve seen many Picassos, most major museums own a few, but I would never have imagined that he made so many pieces in black and white. The pieces were grouped chronologically, which showed his style changing over the years but also served to point out the images and techniques that he repeated over sixty-some years of work. Some works were familiar; “Frugal Repast” -1904 lives at the MFAH, there was a “Portrait of Sylvette David” -1954 from the McNay and “Nude Figure” -1910 from the Albright-Knox. The El Greco inspired “Woman Ironing” -1904 was here from the Guggenheim; one of the few pieces that had a little color. His “Woman in White” -1923 was one of the more representational paintings here. But this show was a crash course in cubism for me, and it helped me get behind it when after gazing at a canvas full of some mangled figure somehow folded in on itself I turned around to see a similar figure, only a head in bronze this time, or a painting done on folded sheet metal. Also, the black and whiteness of everything had me seeing like I’d just staggered out of a silent film festival or something.
The picture at top is Las Meninas after Velasquez, one of forty-some studies he did of Diego Velasquez’s 1656 painting, which Picasso first saw at the Museo Del Prado when he was fourteen years old. This was a show-stopper for me at 76” x 102.” I’ll put up Velasquez’s original below, along with some other faves from the sixties.