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Picasso, Miró, Dalí, Angry Young Men: the Birth of Modernity at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence
Joan Miró (1893-1983) Montroig: The Bridge [Montroig: le pont], 1917, oil on canvas, 46.5 x 58 cm. Switzerland, Nahmad Collection.

FLORENCE.- The exhibition Picasso, Miró, Dalí. Angry Young Men: the Birth of Modernity brings together over sixty early works of three young artists: Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí, as well as over one hundred of Picasso’s sketches. All three were raised in Catalonia, but came to fame in France where two of them chose to live and to build up their careers, whereas Salvador Dalí stayed largely in Spain. On view at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence from 11 March to 17 July 2011, the exhibition is structured like a film in a series of ‘flashbacks’ that take the visitor back in time to the very birth of modernity. Beginning with Dalí’s meeting with Picasso (1926), it traces the birth of modernism to its earliest beginnings through Dalí’s responses to Miró, Miró’s encounter with Picasso (1917), and ends just before the young Picasso’s arrival in Paris in 1900, at the start of the new century. With the 1907 Cahier 7 – shown in its entirety for the first time outside Spain – we see the birth of the language of modern art. The exhibition takes the visitor through a series of spaces organized as ‘considerations’ that investigate the common roots of the styles that later made Picasso, Miró and Dalí household names.

The exhibition begins with an unexpected encounter. Above the heads of the visitors swirl images of pages from an artist’s sketchbook – that of Picasso. The dream-like images, and the striking encounter between classical and African art foreshadow the exhibition’s mysterious secret heart – Picasso’s groundbreaking Cahier 7. The product of just two months of intense creativity in 1907, the album’s pages show Picasso clearly straddling two centuries and two traditions, with one foot in the 19th century, and the other in the 20th. Here we can see Picasso struggling to give birth to a new visual language – the language of modernity – in the very first sketches of his revolutionary work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

After this evocative prologue a series of ‘flashbacks’ takes us back in time, working back from 1926, when the twenty-two year old Salvador Dalí recalls that he visited Picasso in Paris, accompanied by his mother and sister. While Dalí was still a young man, Picasso was about to turn forty-five. “Master, I just arrived in Paris and have come to see you before going to the Louvre”, he remembers saying. Paradoxically, Dalí’s visit of 1926 does not open a cycle but rather completes a ‘story’ that links the early works of three artists: Picasso, Miró and Dalí. Each of them was a young ‘emerging talent’, seeking to develop a unique visual language and each looked to the past in order to invent the future. For Miró, and later Dalí, the ‘past’ already included Picasso.

The visitor then passes through rooms full of youthful masterpieces, always moving backwards in time, through works that speak of the relationship between Miró and Dalí (1920-1925), to the time Miró tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to meet Picasso in Barcelona (1917). Throughout the exhibition the pages of Cahier 7 appear on selected labels, foreshadowing the discovery of the entire sketchbook itself – all 120 spreads, front and back.

Finally the visitor reaches the end (or the beginning) and discovers the exhibition’s earliest work – Picasso’s 1896 Altar boy, painted when the artist was only fifteen years old. The visitor then re-enters the space of Cahier 7 – the heart of the mysterious birth of modernism – and instead of returning to the beginning of the exhibition, enters the final exhibition space in which the debt owed by Dalí, Miró and Picasso himself to the 1907 sketchbook is clearly seen in three major later works: Dalí’s Arlequin, Miró’s Petit Univers and Picasso’s La Femme qui pleure.

The exhibition focuses on the earliest period of Pablo Picasso’s output, from 1895 to 1906, before he created Cubism, with loans from major international museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA and The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts; and the early works of Joan Miró, from 1915 to 1920, and of Salvador Dalí, during their figurative period before they both turned to Surrealism in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Picasso’s early work was often coloured by his strong political convictions. In Madrid in 1901, Picasso and his anarchist friend Francisco de Asís Soler founded the magazine Arte Joven (Young Art), which published five issues. Picasso illustrated the journal, mostly contributing grim cartoons depicting and sympathizing with the state of the poor. Miró too understood art as political, and his often-quoted ‘assassination of painting’ is derived from a dislike of bourgeois art of any kind, especially when used as a way to promote cultural identity among the wealthy. Specifically, Miró saw Cubism in this way, and he is quoted as saying ‘I will break their guitars’, referring to Picasso and Braque’s early Cubist paintings.

Much younger than Picasso and Miró, Dalí was expelled from the Academia in 1926 shortly before his final exams when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him. His mastery of painting skills is well documented in his early works, such as the flawlessly realistic Girl at the window, which was painted in 1926. That same year he made his first visit to Paris where he met Picasso, whom young Dalí revered. Picasso had already heard favourable things about Dalí from Joan Miró.

For Florence this is the first exhibition focusing on the beginnings of modernity for many years. It was conceived by Dr Christoph Vitali, former Director of the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Foundation Beyeler in Basel and most recently the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn, and is co-curated by the renowned art historian and specialist in Spanish modern art, Eugenio Carmona, Professor of Art History at the Università di Malaga, member of the advisory boards of the Museo Patio Herreriano of Valladolid, the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía and the Andalusian Museum Commission. The exhibition is organised by the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, with the support of the Soprintendenza of the Florentine State Museums and the patronage of the governments of Spain, Catalonia and Barcelona.

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