By Charles Kessler
As I stated before
, The Picasso Sculpture exhibition
at the Museum of Modern Art (through February 7th) is like a huge (159 works!) group exhibition of a dozen great sculptors. The guy was a monster – some kind of freak.
On a recent return visit, I was struck by the various ways Picasso used the base for his sculptures. (I am deliberately using the term base
, because pedestal
imply more of a separation between the sculpture and its support than is usually the case with Picasso.) His bases, when he uses them at all, set off the work, but they also become a part of it. I'm not making a claim that Picasso was the first to do this – it was probably Brancusi, or maybe Giacometti – but I'd like to point out some brilliant examples.
In his Reclining Bather
, 1931 (below), the base of the sculpture is whatever it is the bather is reclining on (grass? sand? dirt?).
|Reclining Bather, 1931, bronze, 9 1/16 x 28 3/8 x 12 3/16 inches (Musèe national Picasso).|
Similarly with Woman Reading
, 1951-53, the base is the bed or platform that the woman is reading on.
|Woman Reading, 1951-53, painted bronze, 6 1/8 x 14 x 5 1/8 inches (Centre national d'art et culture Georges Pompidou). |
Picasso sometimes sinks his figures into his bases, analogous to the merging of figure and ground in his paintings.
|Cock, 1932, bronze, 25 13/16 x 22 15/16 x 15 9/16 inches (Tate).|
And the surface of the bases in these sculptures are worked in a similar manner as the figures.
|Bather, 1931, bronze, 27 9/16 x 15 13/16 x 12 3/8 inches (Musèe national Picasso).|
Many of Picasso's bases are small and thin relative to the sculptures, so the sculptures appear precariously, and expressively, top heavy, which gives a sense of great weight to the figures. In these cases Picasso often makes a clear distinction between the sculpture and base.
The smooth, round disc of the base in Head of a Woman
, 1931, and many similar sculptures of this period, sets itself off from the rougher treatment above it. And this rough area seems to extend into the smooth, rounded (and quite phallic) neck and head.
|Head of a Woman, 1931, plaster, 37 13/16 x 12 5/8 x 19 1/8 inches (Musèe national Picasso).|
Even more extreme (in more ways than the base) is The Orator,
1933-34, in which the sculpture is supported by a pole anchored to a large stone. The figure is presented like a flag or a sign, and the base acts as a soapbox for the absurd orator.
|The Orator, 1933-34, plaster, stone, and metal dowel, 72 x 26 x 10 5/8 inches (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco).|
|The Bathers, 1956, wood (Staatgalerie Stuttgart).|
|Detail closeups of the stands for The Bathers, 1956 (above). |
, but they're too flimsy for the job they need to do. There must be a plate under the gravel that attaches to Picasso's sculptural ensemble, otherwise they'd just fall over. Again, Picasso uses clearly inadequate bases to create an expressively precarious work, and, in this case, to emphasize the frontality of the figures.
|Fountain Man, The Bathers, 1956, wood (Staatgalerie Stuttgart).|
By the way, the figure in the middle background, Fountain Man, is a man urinating. Once The Bathers were cast in bronze, Picasso intended a water pipe to be installed in it to provide a stream of water. It's unclear from the exhibition catalog if this was ever carried out.
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