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Major Exhibition offers unprecedented examination of Picasso's black-and-white palette
Mother with Dead Child II, Postscript to Guernica (Femme avec enfant mort II, Post scriptum à Guernica) Grands-Augustins, Paris, September 26, 1937. Oil on canvas, 130 x 195 cm. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Bequest of the artist © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: © Archivo fotográfico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
Picasso Black and White, the first major exhibition to focus on the artist’s lifelong exploration of a black-and-white palette throughout his career, will be presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from February 24 to May 27, 2013.

Featuring nearly 100 paintings, sculptures and works on paper from 1904 to 1970, the exhibition will offer new and striking insights into Picasso’s vision and working methods. This chronological presentation includes significant loans—many of which have not been exhibited or published before—drawn from museum, private and public collections across Europe and the United States, including numerous works from the Picasso family. The exhibition was organized by and premiered at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in October.

A number of significant additions to the Guggenheim exhibition will be on view only in Houston, including major paintings on loan from the Tate Gallery, London, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as well as a selection of prints and drawings and two major works from the MFAH collection: The Rower (1910) and Woman with Outstretched Arms (1961). In addition, the MFAH presentation will include the tapestry based on Picasso’s iconic indictment of war, his 1937 masterwork Guernica. The monumental tapestry was commissioned by Picasso from French weavers in 1955 at the suggestion of Nelson Rockefeller, who purchased it from the artist; following Rockefeller’s death, the tapestry was displayed for more than two decades at the United Nations building in New York.

Picasso Black and White is organized by Carmen Giménez, Stephen and Nan Swid Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with assistance from Karole Vail, associate curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In Houston, the exhibition is coordinated by Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH; and Alison de Lima Greene, curator of contemporary art and special projects.

“Picasso is widely considered the most important artist of the 20th century,” said Gary Tinterow, MFAH director. “Picasso Black and White will be the first comprehensive exhibition of Picasso’s paintings and sculpture to be seen in Houston, expanding upon the Museum’s pioneering Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror, held in 1997. Our colleague Carmen Giménez is one of the great Picasso scholars, and she brings to this project an unerring eye and absolute understanding of the artist’s work. With this latest exploration, Picasso’s compelling use of line, as opposed to color, can now be fully appreciated.”

Few artists have exerted as considerable an influence over subsequent generations as Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). While his work is often seen through the lens of his diverse styles and subjects, the recurrent use of black, white and gray is frequently overlooked. Picasso Black and White will demonstrate how the artist was continuously investigating, inventing and drawing in austere monochromatic tones throughout his career.

Picasso Black and White presents a unique and illuminating perspective on a lesser-known but fascinating aspect of his formidable body of work. Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods include, in effect, works painted in delicate black, white and gray soft light shadings, and his pioneering investigations into Cubism are condensed to geometric and deconstructed components of austere gray tones. Likewise, his neoclassical figure paintings allude to the cool tonalities of Greek and Roman sculpture as well as to European painting and drawing for which Picasso always had a strong affinity, and his explorations into Surrealism comprise sensual works composed in a panoply of grays. The forceful and somber scenes of war, the allegorical still lifes and the vivid interpretations of art-historical masterpieces display a striking intensity through minimal means. Finally, the highly sexualized works of his twilight years feature graphic black and white drawing, at times tender, but always vigorous, and convey the direct mode of spontaneous and raw expression that is so typical of Picasso’s output.

According to Giménez, the graphic quality of these distinctive works harks back to the spare paintings of Paleolithic artists who developed a primal visual language using charcoal and simple mineral pigments. But in adopting this restricted palette, Picasso was also mindful of a centuries-long Spanish tradition, following in the footsteps of earlier masters whose use of the color black was predominant in their canvases—artists such as El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán, Jusepe de Ribera and Francisco de Goya -- who made black paintings in his old age, as did Picasso until the very end of his life. Works by all of these earlier Spanish masters are also on view at the MFAH, in the exhibition Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado.

Giménez also explains that Picasso made highly effective use of black, white and gray in his grisaille painting, evoking textural and sculptural qualities. Reported to have said that color “weakens,” Picasso purged and isolated color from his work in order to highlight its formal structure and assert the autonomy of line and form.

Using this nearly monochromatic palette, Picasso created such masterworks as The Milliner’s Workshop (1926), on loan from the Centre Pompidou in Paris; The Charnel House (1944–45), borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas, after Velázquez) (1957), on loan from the Museu Picasso, Barcelona.



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