Picasso was surely the greatest artist of the 20th century and, arguably, Guernica, his 1937 mural-sized painting, is the single greatest war painting of all time. Alas, Guernica, after years of giving us pleasure at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is now lodged in Madrid and is not expected to travel again. To see it, gentle reader, you simply must travel to Spain. Short of that possibility, a visit to this fine new exhibit, Picasso and the War Years, should assuage your deprivation.
Guernica was Picasso’s anguished response to the Nazi bombing of a Basque town. As the Spanish Civil War segued into World War II, Picasso’s work, as documented by curator Steven Nash, reflected a darkening mood, "tending toward a bleak, dimly lit world of contorted forms, claustrophobic spaces, and grayed-down colors." In this smallish (fewer than 80 pieces) show, Nash has assembled a superb selection of paintings, sculpture, and work in other media, including some not publicly displayed before and others extremely difficult to obtain on loan. The show, then, is a must see for those interested in 20th century art.
Night Fishing at Antibes (see poster reproduced above) and The Charnel House, both canvases from NY’s MOMA, are stunning to see, even after years of familiarity. In the context of this show, The Charnel House takes on new resonance; its return to the colorless palette and anguished, stylized horror of Guernica now is personalized to the destruction of one family, coinciding temporally with the newly unveiled horrors of the Nazi camps and Picasso’s emergent political radicalization.
There were fresh wonders for this viewer, too, including a series of weeping women and a series of seated women. Toward the end, the splendid Cock of the Liberation (from the Milwaukee Art Museum) revives the heart and mind with its optimistic bright colorations and sweeping impasto. Our artists must document the horrors of our times, but they also refresh us with hope and joy.
. – Arthur Lazere