Why can’t the world get enough of Pablo Picasso? On the 50th anniversary of his death, it seems the appetite for the Spanish master is inexhaustible.
“Picasso gobbles everything up, and still we are hungry for more,” grandson Olivier Widmaier-Picasso told AFP, adding that he was “fascinated by the number of curators, historians and researchers that continue to find new angles to explore.”
Explaining his ubiquity is another matter.
The genius of his talent seems largely beyond dispute, and this combined with his emergence at the start of the 20th century, just as the last obstacles to free expression were being dismantled, leaving him free to explore in every direction.
And he simply never stopped, working from his teens right up to his death on the Cote d’Azur at 91.
“He remains above everyone,” said Bernard Blistene, a former director of the Pompidou Centre modern art museum in Paris.
“The permanent invention, the journey across all the great currents of modernity, the continuous experimentation for 80 years, the desire to please and displease… all of it is without equal,” Blistene told AFP.
No more ‘muses’
The MeToo movement has slightly rattled the elevated plinth on which Picasso’s reputation stands, as accusations that he was an abusive misogynist towards his wives and girlfriends trigger calls for a reappraisal.
“We must stop talking about the women in his life as ‘muses’. Some committed suicide, others sank into madness,” said Emilie Bouvard, former curator at the Picasso Museum in Paris.
The exception was Francoise Gilot, the only mistress who dumped Picasso and lived to see 50 years pass since the death of “the tyrannical, superstitious and egotistical being” that she denounced in a famous book in the 1960s.
But the damage has been limited.
Picasso still regularly tops the list for highest-grossing artists at auction: his paintings generated $494 million last year alone, according to Artprice.
There is a balance to be found, said Bouvard.
“Picasso is someone who appropriated things, people,” she said. His work often spoke of violence and sexuality — often with brutal, even courageous honesty — but he also turned those feelings on the women in his life.
“Dealing with this question means speaking differently but fairly about Picasso,” said Bouvard.
That only opens up more ways to prime the pump of the Picasso industry.
An exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum this summer, promising to reevaluate the artist “through a feminist lens”, is being curated by comedian Hannah Gadsby, one of Picasso’s most outspoken critics.
Meanwhile, crowds are flocking to a much lighter retrospective at the Picasso Museum in Paris curated by fashion designer Paul Smith.
It suggests the sexual politics have done nothing to undermine the simple pleasure that comes from seeing Picasso’s work.
“I made it very decorative because the idea is that young school children and teenagers will come and see his work in a different light,” Smith told AFP.
“Many of us have already seen Picasso many times around the world, so we hope to show it in a new way.”