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Monday, March 16, 2009

Cézanne and Beyond: Picasso

Paul Cézanne - Mont Sainte Victoire

Pablo Picasso - Nudes in a Forest

Pablo Picasso may have been the single most important and faithful Cézannist, ever. Cubism's kaleidoscopic fracturing of things is just an extension of the breakage already begun by Cézanne. The feathered brush strokes that define each of the many surfaces we see in a cubist picture are the same strokes that Cézanne used to pull apart his art. But the relationship goes much deeper than these surface similarities. Cézanne discovered that a modern artist could play at dreaming up new languages for describing reality, without feeling obliged to supply a key to understanding them. Looking at a Cézanne, you feel as though you're witnessing an orderly translation of objects into paint, but you never come away with a clear sense of the objects in question. Picasso ran with that method: he created the strong impression that cubism had a grammar and vocabulary that worked (think of all the attempts that wall texts make to explain it as a set of rational procedures) while allowing it to speak in tongues (think of how unconvincing all those explanations end up being). And it was thanks to Cézanne that modern art became a matter of the most radical, ongoing experimentation, rejecting established precedents or newly fashionable theories or any consistency of style. As art historian John Elderfield puts it in the exhibition's massive catalogue, Picasso saw the extremism in Cézanne's art and made it his own (Blake Gopnik in W.Post).

See also the Press Room of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.



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