Picasso and American Art at the Whitney
Michael Kimmelman didn't enjoy this show. Thought it too Art History 101.
Now, if you're the Senior Art Critic for The New York Times, as Kimmelman is (and, I must say, he is often excellent at being that), then, yes, perhaps this vivid demonstration—revealed in direct, side-by-side comparisons—of Picasso's enormous influence on 20th-century American art does feels a bit like "a walk-through textbook that goes to extraordinary lengths to state the obvious," as he put it. However, if you're more of a weekend art fan like me... well, there are a whole lot of amazing, beautiful, powerful paintings here, some of which I had never seen before, and nearly all of which I had never realized were so clearly linked to each other. Basically, I thought it was a great show, filled with incredible art, AND it taught me a lot, about a lot: history, style, technique, creative expression. Did you know Picasso never set foot in America? I didn't.
The exhibit focuses on nine artists—Max Weber, Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, John Graham, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, David Smith, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns—juxtaposing their work with the relevant Picassos. Sometimes the influence is somewhat subtle, as in Picasso's 1923 Woman in White, and Gorky's "The Artist and His Mother," painted three years later (above). Sometimes the influence is striking, but I never had put two and two together before, as in Picasso's "Three Musicians" and Davis's "Colonial Cubism" (below). There are also a great number of direct homages here, some of which are almost amusing (Lichtenstein's were my favorite), as well as a few historical curiosities, such as the photos of a Picasso exhibit in a New York City space whose primary purpose was definitely not an art gallery.
This is a big show, much larger than the Cezanne to Picasso exhibit currently at the Met... or maybe it just seems that way, because the work on display here at the Whitney feels much more weighty, necessary, and dynamic. I went by myself, but definitely plan on returning with Bo and Co before it closes on January 28.