Picasso and Africa
One of the most important exhibitions in the history of the Iziko South African National Gallery opens to the public on 13 April after a five-week run at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. Sponsored by the Standard Bank, the French Embassy and the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), it is the culmination of longstanding partnerships formed between these institutions, as well as Iziko South African National Gallery, l’Association Française d’action artistique (AFAA) and Air France. With President Mbeki and President Chirac as patrons, the exhibition has the full support of the French and South African governments.
Picasso never visited Africa and he affirmed that he did not know the continent. His Africa was in his studio, with his friends and fellow artists, with dealers or collectors or ethnologists; in the vitrines of the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro (now known as Musée de l’Homme) in Paris, the quays of Marseilles, in masks, postcards, in his head and in his spirit.
In no other European artist’s career did African art play such a pivotal and historically significant role as in Picasso’s. From the moment that he had his first encounter with African art in the ethnographic galleries of the Trocadéro in June 1907, he had a sense of the objects as charged with emotion, with a magical force capable of deeply affecting us. At the same time he understood the conceptual principles characteristic of classical African masks and figures, and looked carefully at the formal and expressive lessons he could learn. Politically aware, Picasso challenged both Western artistic traditions and colonial exploitation with his admiration for, and appropriation of, African art.
The curators of the exhibition, Laurence Madeline and Marilyn Martin, have explored Picasso’s response and debt to African sculpture through 61 paintings, drawings and sculptures, in four periods of redirection: his advance to a new form of art through Paul Gauguin and ancient Iberian sculpture; the development of his full-blown African period from the summer of 1907 to the summer of 1908; the African links to Cubism, in both its Analytical and Synthetic phases; new directions from the 1930s, when Picasso worked within the ambit of Surrealism. The works are displayed in the presence of relevant African sculptures from South African collections.
In addition there is a selection of 21 works, including three from South African collections and three from the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. A biographical room provides fascinating insights into Picasso’s life and work.
A prestigious book is available in the Gallery Shop, as well as a curriculum-based educational resource for teachers and learners.
Presented in collaboration with the National Picasso Museum, Paris. The education programme has been made possible by a special grant from Business and Arts South Africa (BASA)
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