Picasso in 1932: Ingenious, Exhausting, Relentless

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Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” a breakthrough 1932 painting, treats Marie-Thérèse Walter’s mauve flesh as the source of vegetation. Credit2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS London

 

LONDON — As the sun set on the last day of 1932, President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt waited to take office, while American banks continued to buckle. The last chancellor of Weimar Germany sat in a Rococo palace in Berlin; the last emperor of China was installed on a puppet throne in Manchukuo. The globe was agitated, and art was not exempt. The Nazis forced the Bauhaus out of Dessau in 1932, and in the same year the Soviet Union dissolved independent artists’ unions and promulgated the single style of socialist realism.

Pablo Picasso, in his studio on Paris’s Rue la Boétie or from his chateau in Normandy, barely noticed. For him, the year 1932 was a cavalcade of public praise and private indulgences, a year when stylistic invention tipped into frenzy. Always overproductive, Picasso supercharged his career in 1932, the year his first retrospective exhibition took place and when the first volume of Christian Zervos’s mammoth catalogue raisonné was published. In 1932, the world was tilting toward catastrophe. Picasso was becoming a god.

What the Spaniard made in 1932 is the subject of an uncommon exhibition at Tate Modern with an almost irresponsibly simple premise: one year, in chronological order, in the life of an artist. At its initial outing last fall, at the Musée Picasso in Paris, it bore the title “Picasso 1932: Année érotique,” which, while candid, raises the question of whether every year in his priapic life might not be designated an erotic one.

Here at Tate Modern, the show has a tamer, Anglo-Saxon name: “Picasso 1932 — Love, Fame, Tragedy.” (The London version of “Picasso 1932” has been organized by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Tate Modern’s director of exhibitions, and Nancy Ireson, a curator at the museum; Laurence Madeline and Virginie Perdrisot-Cassan were responsible for the Paris edition.)

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“Reclining Nude” (“Femme nue couchée”), from “Picasso 1932 — Love, Fame, Tragedy,” at Tate ModernCredit2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS London

Here at the Tate are point-blank masterpieces, above all the plaster and cement busts of his young lover Marie-Thérèse Walter; wonderful and underrated drawings, including a suite of scenes from the Crucifixion translated into strange surrealist tableaux; frankly amateurish sketches of Boisgeloup in the rain; and a hefty amount of cruise-ship Picasso, such as the Tate’s own “Nude Woman in a Red Armchair,” with a face only an oligarch could love.

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