The creative process of “Yo Picasso.Self-portraits”

We started this exhibition project more than three years ago, the only way in which an exhibition of such a size could have been developed.  We presented the project to the Museu Picasso at the beginning of 2010 and it was accepted straight away, so it was necessary to get working quickly. The first question we asked ourselves was, obviously, if it had been done before. There existed some precedents but limited to a part of the exhibition, and not to its totality (specifically, the extraordinary “Picasso and Portraiture”, shown at the MoMA in 1996, the curator of which was William Rubin and with a text about self-portraits by Kirk Varnedoe). All in all, as of today no monographic exhibition has been carried out about the self-portrait in Picasso. From the exhibition point of view, it would seem that Picasso is an overexplored artist, and the inexistence of precedents signified quite a challenge.

Self-Portrait. Pablo Picasso. 1907. Oil on canvas. 56x46cm. Národní galerie v Praze

Once we were convinced that it was an exhibition that had never been done before, we needed to analyse the factors that would make it possible.  How would we get the loans? Our starting point was the collection of the Museu Picasso itself, which includes one of the best collections of portraits in the world. Also, the help and complicity of the Picasso family and its diverse members was indispensable. Self-portrait is a genre that, by its very nature, is very intimate and Picasso, having succeeded as an artist very early in his life, didn’t have the need to sell. And that’s why many of his self-portraits remained in his possession and afterwards passed on to his heirs. Luckily for the project, the collaboration of the artist’s family was generous and enthusiastic. Apart from these important groups (that of the Museu Picasso and of the artist’s family) it was necessary to carry out an extensive task of research among private collections, often based on contacts or on research of old catalogues of auctions. And among the lenders it is also worth highlighting the role of the museums, both national and international, from which we have received important loans.

Self-Portrait. Pablo Picasso. Oil on canvas. 56×45,3cm. Private collection Switzerland

We had our doubts about the title. But if we listen to him, Picasso himself set us on the right path;  it isn’t necessary to invent extravagant titles, it’s enough to point out how he signed some of his works during the years 1900, and above all, 1901 (“Yo Picasso”). With regard to the discourse, this also posed a few questions. First of all, we knew very well that the word “self-portrait” was insufficient for covering the self-representative capacity of Picasso. That’s why we opted for focusing the exhibition on the traditional self-portrait. An extensive interpretation could have led us to an examination of self-representations such as the Minotaur or the hidden self-portraits or the fusions with other people (basically lovers), among the many other categories, but that would have taken us away from the criteria defined by the expository discourse.

The next problem was to establish a criteria for the exhibition. One option was to opt for achronological criteria, that is to say, to place the works in a temporal sequence. But this option doesn’t work with Picasso, as it would have impeded us from transmitting a solid discourse based on themes that are key in terms of the work of Picasso (the image of the artist or the painter and the model, for example). But if we opted for a thematic criteria, the time sequence would be lost, and this time sequence allowed the discourse to have a natural beginning and end. That’s why we opted for a mixed criteria, in such a way that it didn’t strictly follow either of them but both can be recognized during the itinerary.

Self-Portrait. Pablo Picasso. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Characoal and chalk on paper. 22,5×26,5cm. MPB 110.632

Our research had a series of objectives, the first being to establish a storyline with regard to Picasso’s self-portraits and decide on the layout in the space. In this sense, one of the major pleasures was to be able to have such a large number of self-portraits and to elaborate a scientific discourse that would give it sense. The exhibition catalogue is rather more of an essay about the Picassian portraits and includes many other pieces, more or less important, which are not present in the exhibition. The museographic discourse can be understood along two different lines. First of all, a formal one, that allows us to follow the artistic career of Picasso based on the genre of the self-portrait. While the traditional self-portrait concentrates on the periods of youth and old age, the visitor can recognise some of the canonical phases of the artist: the formative years, the blue period, the neoprimitive style, the cubist (based on the photographic self-portrait), the classicist, the surrealist or the last Picasso, amongst others.

But beneath this formal understanding there is an underlying human adventure, so that the itinerary allows us to travel from the thirteen year old teenager to an old man of 91. In the middle of this, the vital vicissitudes of the artist himself take place, but these would be transferable to any person. Picasso also understood art as a means that transcended pure formal analysis. And this was highlighted by Brassaï: «one day there will be a science, that perhaps will be called “the science of man”, that will try to penetrate more deeply into the man by means of the man-creator» He considered that his work would not only pass to being integrated in the history of art but, in a different register, it would be his contribution to this “Science of man”.

Self-Portrait. Pablo Picasso. June 30th, 1972. Pencil and coloured wax crayons on paper. 65,7×50,5cm. Private collection, Tokio. Courtesy Fuji Television Gallery

In line with this, Picasso moves us through his personal story by means of a highly charged autobiographical genre and materialises it by using more or less cryptic statements: we will find the wayward student of Fine Arts; the young bohemian who was singularised by daring clothing; the impetuous artist that boastfully wonders about  the Moulin Rouge; the mature artist who was lodged in the neoclassical moment; the husband with family problems; the old man who tells us of his past and his fantasies and, finally, the image of the man alone facing death, 91 years old, one of the most striking in all the history of art. This work, from a private collection from Tokyo, is the one that closes the exhibition and shows us how, right up to the last moment, with everything against him, Picasso didn’t renounce his condition as artist and we reach the last testimony of the legendary Picassian “self” .

We very much hope you enjoy the exhibition “Yo Picasso. Self-portraits as much as we have loved it during its process of gestation.

Eduard Vallès and Isabel Cendoya, curators of the exhibition

1 Comment
  • Edel Romay
    October 21, 2019


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