Can any more be said about Picasso in the 50th anniversary year of his death? Certainly. The Centre Pompidou has never staged an exhibition dedicated to drawings before, and being the Pompidou, they can do this with impressive scale: this is the largest retrospective of Picasso’s graphic works ever staged. That is why the two curators, Anne Lemonnier and Johan Popelard, were so excited to conceive the exhibition, working in collaboration with the neighbouring Musee National Picasso Paris, who provided the majority of the works.
Picasso Drawings Exhibition at Centre Pompidou, Paris
16th November 2023
The 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death has inspired many commemorations across the world in 2023. But to appreciate the artist, the drawings are at the heart of his work. This is why the Centre Pompidou in Paris has launched a fascinating and dazzling exhibition ‘Picasso. Dessiner à l'infini’ (‘Picasso. Endlessly Drawing’), with nearly 1,000 works on paper by the artist. SPHERE’s Lisa Barnard was invited by wealth management firm Mirabaud Group, a principal sponsor of the exhibition, for the first glimpse. She also had an opportunity to discuss the exhibition with its co-curator, Anne Lemonnier, meet the artist’s grand-daughter, Diana Picasso, and meet Mirabaud’s Managing Partner Lionel Aeschlimann. (Above work Picasso's Faune, Cheval et Oiseau 1936)
You might think an exhibition devoted to drawings is going to be rough sketches or scratchy engravings, mostly in pencil, charcoal and black ink. No. The exhibition is filled with colour throughout and presents both masterpieces and hitherto unseen works.
Why devote an exhibition to Picasso’s Drawings?
Drawing was at the epicentre of Picasso’s metier, and therefore ‘Dessiner à l’Infini’ is the most complete overview you could have of the artist. According to Picasso’s mother, his first word was ‘piz’ short for ‘lapiz’, pencil in Spanish, and he could draw before he could speak. That's why The Mirabaud Group, as art philanthropists and connoisseurs, chose to support the exhibition and why his grand-daughter, Diana Picasso, was so excited about it.
The exhibition highlights the most prolific part of Picasso’s creative output, bringing together notebooks, drawings and engravings, from precocious youthful studies to his final works. Drawing for him was a constant form of invention and re-invention, where Picasso experimented, with different techniques, concepts and approaches, in a relentless cycle of self-challenge. He constantly pushed his own boundaries. This journey through his graphic works is described by the Pompidou as "a sort of obsessively kept diary, with the notebooks being the most precious examples, immersing us in the heart of the artist’s work”.
In terms of Picasso's retrospective, there is no doubt that he was a controversial figure. His relationship with and treatment of women was questionable, as has been covered in the last year, including an informative BBC documentary series. But is undeniable that his extraordinary talent and energy as an artist and draughtsman was legendary. That is what this exhibition shines a light on.
This exhibition is beautifully designed and generous in proportions. It pays homage to Picasso the draughtsman 50 years after his death aged 91, but eschews the traditional chronological route in favour of a thematic approach. It takes over the entire top floor of the Pompidou (Galerie 1, Level 6) and is arranged open-plan in a circular maze of 50 Sections. Lemonnier describes it as a ‘whirlwind’, radiating 50 subjects, which range from Faces, In blue, Superimposed planes, Man at Table, Circus Entertainers, Mistakes and crossings out, Pastels, Light-dark contrasts, Tapestry cardboards, Illustrated books, Anatomy, Self-portraits, Pain, L’Aubade, Voyeur, Fragmented bodies, and the Artist and his model. Having explored these themes, I now feel I must go back to revisit again!
How to navigate Picasso Drawings Exhibition at Centre Pompidou
Since it is non-linear and periods overlap throughout, you can start anywhere in the exhibition – I started at the outer edge and worked my way in to the centre. It is worth reading the concise introductions to each section, each explaining its raison d’être. There are few museums or galleries in the world that could allow this approach, but the open-plan style of the Pompidou Centre, its iconic design by Renzo and Rogers, together with the breath-taking views over Paris, make for an unforgettable and apt setting.
Lemonnier explained the reasoning behind the approach: “Exhibitions are normally perceived in a very academic way, as a succession of epochs and that does not allow us to open our gaze. This open approach means we can bring together topics that don’t normally come into contact with each other. Each of these chapters creates echoes between different periods.”
Lionel Aeschlimann Managing Partner of Mirabaud Group commented: “Creativity and passion are fundamental to any type of innovation, to rethinking oneself and being open to new opportunities”. In a spirit of sharing and dialogue, Mirabaud has been actively involved in promoting contemporary art for several decades and has an extraordinary art collection, which SPHERE will be featuring soon. Watch this space.
At the very centre of the exhibition are the precious Notebooks. Picasso left nearly 200 notebooks, dating from nearly every period of his life, from his first years in La Coruña in Spain to his final years at Mougins in France. These range from pocket notebooks to large drawing albums to modest scratchpads. In the exhibition 68 notebooks ‘carnets’, which normally live at the Musée National Picasso-Paris, are presented, each open at a carefully curated page. They tantalise the viewer about what may be on the other pages. Preservation is paramount of course. and even the curators were not allowed to handle the notebooks themselves. There are digital versions that can be viewed on a screen in the exhibition.
This landmark Picasso exhibition is open for just three months, the maximum time drawings can be exposed to light, so make sure you visit before 15 January 2024. The exhibition catalogue is well worthwhile, as it offers a mini-essay on each of the 50 topics. The entire Pompidou Centre will be closing for 5 years from 2025 for a major refurbishment, so it is worth getting to Beaubourg soon in any event.
Picasso Endlessly Drawing 18 October 2023 – 15 January 2024