Picasso’s depiction of sexual violence under the artistic microscope in #MeToo era

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February 13, 2019 07:06:30

A regional Victorian art gallery hopes the exhibition of 100 Pablo Picasso prints will spark a conversation around how the legendary artist’s treatment of women should affect the way people view his art.

The Art Gallery of Ballarat will host the National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition of Picasso’s ‘The Vollard Suite’ between February 23 and April 28.

Picasso drew the prints for art dealer Ambroise Vollard between 1930 and 1937, exploring themes of male sexuality, ambition, obsession, fear, and morality.

While Picasso’s work is legendary, his personal life and his attitude towards women have been heavily criticised, especially in his relationships with multiple wives and mistresses.

“The women were pretty much destroyed by him, he didn’t treat them very well, three of them committed suicide,” Art Gallery of Ballarat director, Louise Tegart, said.

“The works, in general, bring up the kind of questions around how you view artworks, how much of an artist’s personal life you let bring into the context that you’re seeing them in.”

Depictions of rape, sexual violence

Ms Tegart said a number of works in The Vollard Suite depicted rape and other acts of violence.

“One of themes in the suite is about the mythological minotaur with Picasso identifying himself as the minotaur,” she said.

“When you know at the time he was married but he was treating his wife very, very poorly but he’d actually, as a 46 year-old man, started a relationship with a 17-year-old girl who really looks like this person depicted in the prints.

“Should that be affecting the way that you’re reading the artworks?”

Ms Tegart said, rather than shying away from Picasso’s dubious reputation, the gallery had an “ethical responsibility to describe the context that the works were made in and also understand the context that we’re viewing them in today”.

“What were doing is actually presenting a number of public programs where people can hear a bit more debate about this kind of thing we’re talking about,” she said.

“We’ll be holding a panel discussion on March 26 where we are tackling those questions about how far the personal history of artists should inform responses to their art.

“Picasso was an exceptional draftsman, and let’s not try to take away from that, but there are other things were should consider when we look at art.”

An artist at his peak who didn’t hide

Curator of international prints, drawings and illustrated books at the National Art Gallery of Australia, Sally Foster, said Picasso was at the height of his career when he drew The Vollard Suite.

“It’s really clear to him and to everyone else now, that he’s going to go down in history as one of the great artists of the 20th century,” she said.

“Plus he’s a man who just turned 50, so all those mid-life crises are rolling in.”

Ms Foster said, while Picasso’s relationship with women is problematic by contemporary standards, his art depicts and reflects that in a very honest way.

“One of the most amazing things about Picasso when you look at his art, is that he just really puts it all out there,” she said.

“He doesn’t hide it, he’s not being secretive about it, he puts all his psychological tensions … in his work for all of us to see.”

Ms Foster said Picasso’s depiction of the minotaur shows he identified with certain “animalistic urges” and the “idea of the man and the beast”.

“That idea that there’s this underlying violence that permeates everything no matter how sophisticated we think we are.”

‘Everyone will come to it in different ways’

Ms Foster said Picasso’s reputation made the artist polarising but it should not deter people from viewing The Vollard Suite.

“We’re one of the few organisations, institutions, in the world to hold the complete suite so this is incredibly rare — it’s a real treasure,” she said.

“It’s an extraordinary work of art when you look at it in its entirety.”

Ms Foster said how Picasso’s reputation impacted upon people’s view of his work would ultimately be up to the individual.

“When you see it put down out there in the world, it can be very confronting so people will come to it in all different ways,” she said.

“Have a close look at these works because they’re provocative, they’re powerful, they’re thought-provoking.

“It’s really what we want from art.”

Topics:

art-history,

arts-and-entertainment,

painting,

visual-art,

ballarat-3350,

spain,

france



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