The catalogues of exhibitions have a double life. On the one hand, they are the testimony of a temporary and short-lived event that gathers together a series of works and documents in one place and in one space, selected by the curators to illustrate or suggest an idea, a thesis, that structures and covers both the exhibition and the catalogue. On the other hand, once the period of time has passed in which we are allowed to live the experience of the exhibition, the catalogue loses this original temporality and becomes an essay, a specialised monograph.
All this preamble leads us to speak about the catalogue of the exhibition “Yo Picasso. Self-Portraits” that the Museu Picasso of Barcelona presented until September 1st, the curators of which being Eduard Vallès with Isabel Cendoya.
If we take into account the immensity of the bibliography about Pablo Picasso, it is surprising that the topic of self-portraits counts on hardly any monograph dedicated to this artistic “subgenre” with the exception of the work by Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso per Picasso (Picasso by Picasso), published in 1970 by the publisher Joventut and some other works among which it is worth highlighting that of Carla Gottlieb (in 1981) and that of Kirk Varnedoe (1996). This “exceptionality” is reinforced by the fact that Yo Picasso has been the first monographic exhibition about self-portraits in the work of Pablo Picasso and, therefore, now that the exhibition has closed its doors to the public, this catalogue is bound to become a work of obligatory consultation.
The book is based around the 12 fields that help us define a chronological storyline that is justified by the will to establish a list and make reference to all the self-portraits produced, from the early formative years to the last years. This functional question is reinforced by two core ideas that appear throughout the text:
- The self-portrait is a transversal genre in the work of Pablo Picasso, which we can find with more or less intensity throughout his whole artistic career and that establishes a circular narration, from adolescence to old age.
- The concept of total art of Pablo Picasso obliges us to forget any form of technical frontier; the self-portraits are present in oil paintings, drawings, prints, ceramics, etc. and even in photographic self-portraits (Isabel Cendoya was charged with dealing with this aspect).
One very interesting question that is posed is the topic of self-representation beyond the traditional self-portrait. Eduard Vallès warns us that the work excludes “the projections of his personality, as for example the artist’s studio, the graphics and ideograms destined to couples or lovers or the extremely wide category of hidden self-portraits” so as to limit the field of research. Vallès includes the interpretations from the various experts in Picasso who have written about this aspect and at the same time offers new and suggestive interpretive points of view.
One aspect worth highlighting is the fact that the texts of the catalogue allow two levels of understanding. One level more informative that by means of an introductory paragraph in each field, manages to sum up the ideas that are subsequently described, and a second level aimed at readers interested in going a bit further and at expert readers, in which the various ideas and topics covered, are developed further.
Both for those who have been able to see the exhibition and for those for whom it hasn’t been possible, the Yo Picasso book will allow you to go on a trip that introduces you into the topic of self-representation of the artist and will accompany you on this circular story through the works of Pablo Picasso.
Head of the Library, Museu Picasso
The creative process of “Yo Picasso. Self-Portraits”