Picasso and Abstraction

This event has already passed Location: C3 Theater


Pablo Picasso’s loathing of abstract art is well documented. He did not speak of it often, but when he did, it was either to dismiss it as complacent decoration or to declare its very notion an oxymoron (“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something.”) The root of this hostility toward abstract art is to be found in the impasse that the artist reached during the summer 1910, spent in Cadaquès. Tempted for two months by the possibility of abstraction as the logical development of his previous work, Picasso recoiled in horror when he returned to Paris. But though he swore to never go again near abstraction, he could not prevent himself from testing his resolve from time to time. Dr. Yve-Alain Bois will examine several encounters, or rather false encounters, of Picasso with abstraction. A particular emphasis will be placed on a series of drawings from the mid-20s in which he was responding to the sculptures of Naum Gabo, and on the series of paintings on the theme of the Studio, dating from 1928-29, in which he seems to be responding to the work not only of Matisse, as often assumed, but also of Mondrian. The talk will also discuss the way in which pioneers of abstract art, Mondrian in particular, thought of their own art as the continuation of Picasso’s.

Yve-Alain Bois is Professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He has written extensively on 20th-century art, from Matisse and Picasso, Mondrian and Lissitzky, to postwar American art, particularly Minimal art. A collection of his essays, Painting as Model, has been published in 1990. He co-organized the 1994-95 retrospective of Piet Mondrian in The Hague, Washington, and New York. In 1996, he curated the exhibition L’informe, mode d’emploi with Rosalind Krauss at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Other exhibitions that he curated include Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry at the Kimbell Museum of Art (1999); Ellsworth Kelly: Early Drawings at the Fogg Art Museum and five other venues (1999-2000); Ellsworth Kelly: Tablet at the Drawing Center (New York) and the Musée des Beaux Arts, Lausanne (2002); and Picasso Harlequin at the Vittoriano in Rome (2008-09). Bois is one of the editors of the journal October and a contributing editor of Artforum. Among other projects, he is currently working on the catalogue raisonné of Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings and sculpture, the first volume of which was just published.

This talk is presented by the Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History.