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THE OTHER 'DEMOISELLES D’AVIGNON'

30.07.2020

When visiting Museo Picasso Málaga’s recently inaugurated new installation of the permanent collection, many people may pause when they find themselves face-to-face with the Demoiselles d’Avignon.

On closer inspection they will see, first, that it is not a canvas but a tapestry. Then, intrigued, they will read the label to discover it was made by, not by Picasso. So, what is the story hidden behind these colourful woven wool threads that, just for a moment, led us to believe we were in MoMA in New York? What are these other young ladies from Avignon doing in Museo Picasso Málaga?

Since June of this year, Museo Picasso Málaga has been displaying a new face, thanks to the fresh layout of artworks in the Renaissance Palacio de Buenavista which, in the very heart of Málaga, houses the museum’s collection. The artistic dialogue between the works in the permanent collection and the new works by Picasso that belong to the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA) is periodically refreshed, allowing visitors to rediscover Picasso’s artistic achievement thanks to an exhibition narrative that begins with his formative years and continues through his most representative periods.

These other Demoiselles d’Avignon are part of MPM’s latest metamorphosis, and they display their charms from an enormous wool tapestry measuring almost 3m high by 2.5m wide. It is the result of a collaboration between Picasso and the weaver Jacqueline Dürrbach, who had a studio in Cavalaire on the French Mediterranean coast. Her trademark, an A within a C, is visible at the lower left of the tapestry, just below Picasso’s “signature,” woven in block letters.

Picasso’s engagement with tapestry went back to 1928, when he created a running Minotaur for the influential couturier and collector Marie Cuttoli, who brought tapestry into the twentieth century by persuading avant-garde artists to make designs for this traditional medium. The modern tapestry movement encouraged the idea that weavers should translate paintings into the language of textiles, using simplified shapes and a limited selection of colors. In 1951, Picasso encountered Jacqueline Dürrbach’s work in this new medium, and the two artists soon began to collaborate. Dürrbach first recreated Picasso’s small Pierrot and Harlequin of 1920 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) and then embarked on the far more ambitious project of creating a tapestry version of his 1937 masterpiece Guernica. The American patron and statesman Nelson Rockefeller purchased an example of this reinvented Guernica, which was later donated to the United Nations, where it is displayed as a reminder of the horrors of war.  

The Demoiselles tapestry of 1958 was the next product of the two artists’ collaboration.  Picasso authorized Dürrbach to depart even further from the painterly language of the 1907 canvas. She replaced the blended colors of the original with sharp transitions between hard-edge patches of color, creating an equivalent for Picasso’s dynamic brushwork by borrowing the aggressive hatch marks in the faces of the two figures at right and distributing them across the composition. It might be argued that, in terms of technique, the tapestry is more “modern” than the original. Delighted with the result, Picasso hung it in the studio of his villa La Californie. In a conversation with Brassaï, Picasso said that “my guests think it’s awful and talk of sacrilege. They can’t see my colours in it, but that’s precisely what appeals to me”. Indeed, according to historian John Richardson, Picasso told visitors that the woven version of his famous painting was “far better than the original!”

Several photographs from the Roberto Otero Photographic Archive, which was acquired by Museo Picasso Málaga in 2005, show Picasso with the tapestry, which hung next to a doorway in La Californie. In another picture we can see the Dürrbachs and Rafael Alberti watching Picasso as he consults a book. In his memoirs, Roberto Otero, photographer and friend of Picasso, recalls that the tapestry “seems to fill the entire atmosphere” and that he asked Picasso to pose in front of these other Demoiselles for a photograph: “It will only show your head in one corner” he told the artist, realizing that the girls would not fit in the picture otherwise. “As if it were a signature”, replied Picasso, without batting an eyelid.

The Revolutionary, Leading the Avant-garde, and The Old Wizard

This version of the Demoiselles d’Avignon is the only work that is inspired, as opposed to produced, by Pablo Picasso, of the 120 works currently being shown at Museo Picasso Málaga under the title Dialogues with Picasso. Collection 2020-2023. The innovative scenographic layout is the result of the joint endeavours of the MPM and FABA professional teams, in collaboration with guest associate curator Pepe Karmel, professor of art history at New York University. Prof. Karmel’s curatorial approach has been to group the various sections that form MPM’s new Picassian discourse into three distinct time periods.

The Revolutionary covers the formative years of the artist born in Málaga in 1881 who was to change the course of 20th-century art history: his academic beginnings; the period in Barcelona as a young man; establishing himself as an artist in Paris; the evolution of the Blue and Rose periods and the birth of Cubism. Then, in Leading the Avant-garde, the MPM exhibition takes us to the mid-1920s, when Picasso moved among high society alongside his wife, Olga Khokhlova, and began to experience success as a ceaseless innovator and undisputed leader of the avant-garde movement. We move on to periods during which Picasso alternated different styles with equal skill, recording the political and social upheaval of the time. Finally, we come to The Old Wizard, after the liberation of Paris in 1944, when he enjoyed fame previously unknown to any other artist and becoming more audacious with each passing decade, until his death in 1973.

Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s grandson, is also responsible for the new layout in his role as curator, co-president of FABA and president of the Executive Board of Museo Picasso Málaga. He is convinced that Dialogues with Picasso. Collection 2020-2023 enables visitors to see Picasso from a new angle, creating links between his various creative periods and highlighting the recurrent themes in his work.

In a book on the collection due to be published soon, the artistic director of Museo Picasso Málaga, José Lebrero Stals, points out that when museums fulfil their role as custodians of the heritage they hold, they confirm their status as appropriate cultural spaces that are capable of stimulating memory.

 

Further reading on Picasso, tapestry and the 1958 Demoiselles d’Avignon:

Cécile Godefroy, “Picasso et la tapisserie,” colloque Revoir Picasso, 25 mars 2015 (http://revoirpicasso.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/RevoirPicasso-2015_J1...)

Sheila Gibson Stoodley, “Dream Weavers,” Art and Antiques, September 2009 (http://www.artand antiquesmag.com/2009/09/dream-weavers/

K.L.H. Wells, “Rockefeller’s Guernica and the collection of modern copies,” Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 27, no. 2, July 2015 (doi:10.1093/jhc/fhu029)

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