Picasso Guitar Series at MoMA
What is so staggering about Picasso’s Guitar Series (1912-1914) is what you recognize. Everything is there. A pure white square detached from its cubist mooring and floating off towards Malevich. A string casting shadow from cardboard (Richard Tuttle). The daily newspaper as worthy material (de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Warhol).
Picasso is no longer riffing on known forms — the Greeks, the Africans and everyone in between — he has been given the key to an unknown room. Handed the magician’s wand, discovering an entirely new set of forms. One torqued guitar neck looks like a Frank Gehry building. What is amazing is that his paper constructions have the monumentality of a Greek column and the nonchalance of an origami bird. They are absolute and fleeting: simultaneously. What alchemy is allowing him to juggle both sensibilities at the same time? The “drawings” are rabbit fast. The paintings are tortoise slow. On paper the charcoal line zips. On canvas the line creeps. Incrustations build. With the addition of grit mixed into the pigment one soft pink passage looks like sandpaper. This is Beauty that would take the skin off your lips if you kissed it.
I felt a faint sorrow that Picasso would never again have all these ideas flooding out at once. At the same time, I admired him for leaving this room, alive. The work is so generous. He is giving everyone presents. There was enough there from 1912 through ‘14 to keep an entire century of artists busy.
Oh, and he even seems to scoop Duchamp. One playful drawing is hidden between two sheets of paper. A light shining through it reveals a leering smile. What do you think, Marcel?