The third edition of the cycle of Jaume Sabartés lectures, which is held each year in honour of the founder of the Museu Picasso, counted last week on the presence of Dr. Christopher Green as a guest speaker, who offered his vision about “Picasso and friends: Cubism as Realism, 1914-1918”.
Green posed the question of how cubism was able to survive in the Paris of the Great War and have nothing to do with the brutal tragedy that was taking place just one hundred kilometres from the city. His thesis, which he presented yesterday as a preview of the exhibition “Cubism and War: The Crystal in the Flame” which will be inaugurated in the Museu Picasso in October 2016 and for which he is curator, is that cubism provided a pictorial language so as to overcome the horrors of the war. “Art allowed the conflict to be overcome and to impose itself on the omnipresence of the war, and the artists who remained in Paris didn’t ignore the conflict but overcame it by means of the power of art […] it is an absolute reaffirmation of life”, a way of expressing a superior reality to that of the war: the importance of the individual and of art. And it is in this sense that cubism, during this period, functioned as a form of realist art and evolved as a collective response to the call to order and also in response to the devaluation of the individual as a product of the rise of the machines.
In a talk in 1913 Fernand Léger told the public that his cubism was what pictorial realism could become, after the cinema and photography had taken on the task of capturing the social dramas, the heroism and tragedy of the wars. In Paris, during the war that the French would call the Great War, it was impossible to ignore the tragedy. War, as Braque explained, was an obsession, and according to Green: “the capital of modernity, par excellence, Paris, ceased to be so, and became a city buried in the darkness of the night”.
Picasso and those who continued working as cubists in Paris between 1914 and 1918, left in the hands of the mechanical reproducibility of the photography and of the cinema the task of recording what was happening on the western front, just one hundred kilometres from the city. They continued doing figurative art, while refusing to use the war as a theme.
According to Christopher Green, for these artists “continuing to work in the same way as they had done before the war was an absolute reaffirmation of life” and “they rejected the fact that their work would tackle the war in a direct way”. For these artists residing in Paris, cubism didn’t represent a denial of the conflict, but quite the contrary, a positive affirmation of their individuality in front of the mechanization of death in the war. Green believes that “the reality of the conflict was impossible to escape from and cubism was reaffirmed as the power of the individual to continue creating art in the worst circumstances”.
Also those who returned from the front did the same, like Braque, they rediscovered the pleasure of painting after having suffered serious war wounds, and they once again painted the themes they had always painted. In fact, by refusing to be propagandists in the service of mass murder, cubism continued to be a field of possibilities also after the war. In a first moment, it seemed that this pictorial language would be abandoned, but in fact there was a development towards figuration, which in the case of Picasso in particular, represented “a new type of figuration, a metamorphosis of the artistic language which, ultimately, made it possible later for the Guernica to exist.”
Written by the museum