Picasso still dominates all aspects of the world of art, as comprehensive Paris exhibition shows

Grand Palais show juxtaposes his work and the work of others, revealing how the Spanish artist transformed painting, sculpture and more

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 6:01am

A major exhibition exploring, for the first time, the wide-reaching influence of Pablo Picasso on everything from painting and sculpture to film and advertising has opened at the Grand Palais in Paris.

"Picasso.Mania" has brought together work by some of the most renowned contemporary artists and filmmakers, from David Hockney and Jasper Johns to Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons and Jean-Luc Godard, to trace how the impact of Picasso's work goes far beyond the realm of visual art - and can still be felt today.

The blockbuster autumn show, which features 78 artists, is centred around three pivotal moments in the Spanish artist's life: cubism; his works from the late 1930s, when he first created his archetypal image of the turned face; and his late works, which were exhibited in the 1970s in Avignon. It also focuses on the lasting cultural legacy of Picasso's most emblematic works - Guernica and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

Didier Ottinger, who curated the exhibition, admits it is one of the most ambitious shows staged at the Grand Palais and had taken three years to pull off.

"The purpose was to study the legacy of Picasso, not just through visual art but also through cinema, through music and even advertising, which is something huge because Picasso seems to be everywhere," he says.

"We wanted to emphasise this very specific dimension of Picasso, which is that he is not only a painter but a man responsible for incarnating the genius of the 20th and now 21st century."

Unlike the 20 or so visual art exhibitions that have been staged since 1973 exploring the influence on Picasso on contemporary art, "Picasso.Mania" has a strong multimedia focus, including Hockney's 2012 video piece The Jugglers, June 24, 2012; a 2009 video installation by Rineke Dijstra; and clips from Godard's film Breathless. A brand new photo and digital work by Hockney, titled A Bigger Card Players, is also on display.

Elements of the exhibition explore legacies such as the enduring image of Picasso's own face in art, including Maurizio Cattelan's kitsch larger-than-life fibreglass sculpture of Picasso, as well as the continued political significance of Guernica, symbolised by its recreation as a tapestry now on the walls of the United Nations security council building.

The premise of the show was risky, says Ottinger, because there was a chance artists would not want their work directly compared with Picasso's.

However, as George Condo, an American painter who has 17 works adorning the final wall of the exhibition, says, it is "great to be recognised on such a level and hung next to an artist who you love".

Condo's distinctive paintings, of figures with grotesque expressions and exaggerated features, are often directly compared to Picasso's later work.

The pieces Condo chose for the show are of naked, voluptuous figures, all seemingly engaged in erotic activities; two paintings were made just for the show.

"I wanted to draw all the unabashed, hysterical eroticism that we could possibly get out of my paintings," says Condo. "I think Picasso in the last few years of his life became obsessive about it all, so I wanted to curate a body of my own work that would relate to that, which was both erotic but also insane, and really exhibit this mania.

"Those paintings are projections of a life I would never dare to live in my own true self."

Condo recalls his first encounter with Picasso in 1969, when he was aged 13 and saw a picture of one of his paintings in a newspaper. The only art he was familiar with up to that point was religious images in churches and he was so intrigued he went out and bought a book on Picasso, which was his first introduction to modern art.

Picasso's willingness to cannibalise the Old Masters has also been an influence on Condo, who, thanks to a grotesque portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth and his provocative cover for Kanye West's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is no stranger to controversy.

"If I don't shock myself I consider it to be not a very good painting," he says.

"When Picasso did Les Demoisselles d'Avignon people thought it was a disgrace, and it was the same with the album cover I did for Kanye. It depicted an interracial couple naked, and there was this political backlash."

However, Condo says he hopes the show will also make people realise that while Picasso is an inspiration in his painting, his work is not plagiarism.

"There's actually no pure reference to Picasso in any of my works," he says.

"I thought that this show would clarify the differences between his work and mine, more than the similarities. That would be the ironic result of it all - that finally people will stop saying 'oh it looks so much like Picasso'."