Uncommon Retrospectives: Picasso by Malraux
On Malraux's birthday week, I suggest you an uncommon retrospective on one of the most influential artists of all times art, given indeed by the French writer and ex-Minister of Culture André Malraux.
On Malraux’s birthday week, I suggest you an uncommon retrospective on one of the most influential artists of all times art, given indeed by the French writer and ex-Minister of Culture André Malraux.
More a Freudian novel than an historical document, Picasso’s Mask (the original and less sensational title being La Tête d’Obsidienne) analyzes one of the less known aspects of the artist’s oeuvre, the most sculptural one, thereby being the closest to creation, death, archaic primitivism.
Having an evocative and reasoning-filled prose, many have found the book a thorny reading and a non-representative gaze on Picasso’s art. Still, if you are thrilled from an non-academic gaze on the Spanish artist; if you don’t want to read on the classical “two-dimensional-turn”; if you want to read on art through a the stream of consciousness’s lens, this fracture-styled reading is probably what you are looking for.
The book begins with Malraux being invited by Jacqueline Picasso, the artist’s widow, after Picasso’s death in 1973, to her house at Mougins, in the South of France. The French writer – who knew Picasso very well – has the chance to admire Picasso’s very last paintings “painted face to face with death.” The occasion for Malraux is that of imagining a further museum without walls, one in which death, creation and destroying forces appear to be the fil rouge.
The writer reflects upon the metamorphosis of Picasso’s art and on the artist’s own selection of primitive items. Queen of all being the mask. Masks, which had had a specific meaning to Picasso as well to African culture, are here revealed as frightening weapons, used for the archetypal ritual of painting. “There always talks about negroes’ influence on me. What should I say? We all loved the fetishes,” states Picasso. Fetishes are what the book is mainly concerned with. They are necessary instruments for Picasso to realize exorcism-works. Inevitable is the reference to Les Demoiselles, which Picasso describes as “my very first exorcism canvas.”
Memories and reflections last for entire chapters, interrupting the chronological line of the plot (if any). The reader is disoriented, as if front of a Picasso. Accordingly, beside being a tribute to the artist, the book it is an imaginary conversation with him. One set in a mental space. Somewhere between an imaginary museum and Picasso’s creative acts.