Exhibition explores the artistic synergy between two 20th-century icons
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Exhibition explores the artistic synergy between two 20th-century icons
Pablo Picasso, The Studio at La Californie (L’Atelier de La Californie), 1956, oil on canvas, 44 7/8 × 57 1/2 in. (114 × 146 cm), Musée national Picasso-Paris, Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

HOUSTON, TX.- Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso, seminal figures of 20th-century art, both ceaselessly challenged orthodox concepts about form, line, and space. The international touring exhibition Calder-Picasso presents a fascinating encounter between them, conceived by the artists’ grandsons, Alexander S. C. Rower and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso.

The exhibition explores the artists’ prolific affinities through 80 works, integrating Calder’s paintings, drawings, and revolutionary mobiles and stabiles with Picasso’s radically inventive work in all media. Central to the many resonances is their shared conceptual interrogation of the void, or absence of space.

Calder-Picasso is on view in Houston from October 31, 2021, through January 30, 2022, following presentations at the de Young museum in San Francisco and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Organized in partnership with the Calder Foundation, New York; Musée national Picasso-Paris (MNPP); and Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA), Calder-Picasso premiered at the MNPP in February 2019 before traveling to the Museo Picasso Málaga.

“I am enormously pleased to bring this acclaimed exhibition to the U.S., through our partners at the Calder Foundation and FABA and the Picasso museums in Málaga and Paris,” said Gary Tinterow, Director, the Margaret Alek Williams Chair, MFAH. “The exhibition will be especially meaningful in Houston and at the MFAH. From director James Johnson Sweeney to patrons Ima Hogg, Sarah Campbell Blaffer, and Caroline Wiess Law, the Museum’s early champions of Modernism made it possible for significant pieces by both artists to enter the collection in the 1950s and 1960s.”

“The stunning visual juxtapositions that this exhibition brings together are provocative, unpredictable, and dynamic,” said Ann Dumas, the Museum’s consulting curator of European art. “They tell us much about the correspondence between these two great artists, as well as what makes them distinctive, allowing us to understand their process and unique innovations in a fresh, new light.”

Calder and Picasso

American Alexander Calder (1898–1976) and Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) were both born in the late 19th century to fathers who were classically trained artists. Both headed for Paris as young artists; Picasso in 1900 and Calder in 1926. Though their lives and work shared many parallels, the two men were not close; known documentation shows them meeting on only four occasions. Their initial encounter happened in April 1931, when Calder presented his first exhibition of non-objective sculptures at Galerie Percier in Paris. Picasso arrived before the opening to introduce himself and spend time with Calder’s radical works. Their paths crossed again in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion of the Exposition Internationale in Paris, where Calder’s Mercury Fountain was installed in front of Picasso’s Guernica. They met again in Antibes in 1952 and Vallauris in 1953, after they had become celebrities and referents for their generation. By then, both had been recognized with retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York—Picasso in 1940 and Calder in 1943. Their work was also shown at the 1953 São Paulo Biennial, and both artists undertook commissions for UNESCO in 1958.

The Void and Non-Space

Calder and Picasso were both engaged by the relationship of volume to space. Calder explored the absence of mass in his sculptures, while Picasso expressed contortions of time in his figurative work.

Calder’s genius lies in his total recasting of the notion of sculpture. His figurative wire sculptures—defined by critics in 1929 as “drawings in space”—delineate transparent silhouettes, echoed by the shadows they project. In his abstract mobiles, Calder introduced the fourth dimension of time into traditional three-dimensional space. The mobiles are infinitely variable, blurring the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and choreography as they reset the traditional relationship between volume and void.

Picasso personalized his exploration of non-space, focusing on the emotional inner-self and collapsing the interpersonal space between painter and subject. His expressions of the void suggest a creative urgency, highly aware of mortality.

Both artists also pursued simplification to arrive at the essence of a subject. As Picasso simplified or purified the solidity of a figure, he gained access to its truth.

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