Academics Ivanne Galant, lecturer and doctor in Hispanic studies at the Sorbonne, and Jorge Villaverde, historian and research professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, analyze in this article how the “Picasso 2023” celebrations take into account the controversies surrounding the painter.
50 years ago disappeared Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973), often presented as “the genius of the XXe century “ And “the most French of Spanish painters”. Logically, the year 2023 is therefore rich in events dedicated to the artist, on both sides of the Pyrenees.
His native Malaga, the Barcelona of his youth, bohemian Paris, the peaceful charm of the Côte d’Azur: tributes to the most prolific artist of the XXe century – and also one of the most decried on a personal level, we will come back to this – follow one another in these places that have marked his life.
The binational calendar drawn up by a Franco-Spanish government commission includes sites less directly linked to the painter, such as La Coruña, where he spent part of his childhood, between the ages of 10 and 14, or the great museums of Madrid and Bilbao. Moreover, New York, where he never set foot, but which he had chosen to exhibit his Guernicajoins the celebrations.
This is not the first time that his figure has been associated with advertising – think of the famous Citroën Picasso – or with tourism. The Spanish government agency in charge of tourism promotion had already used its Pigeonsher head of a woman or Jacqueline with a black handkerchief to illustrate posters in the years 1980-1990.
But in the light of recent controversies, how can Picasso’s image continue to fuel promotional and tourist campaigns?
Art and tourism
The first Picasso museum was opened during his lifetime in 1935, in Barcelona, at the instigation of the painter’s private secretary, Jaime Sabartés.
After his death, donations from his widow, Jacqueline Roque and her children, exempt from tax by the French State, and from individuals made it possible to open several museums: in Paris in 1985 and in Malaga (first his birthplace in 1988, then the museum in 2003).
In 1981, Picasso was already honored for the 100th anniversary of his birth. Stamps and exhibitions accompany the event of the year: the arrival in Madrid of Guernica. Commissioned for the Spanish (and Republican) pavilion of the Universal Exhibition, the work was then kept at the MOMA in New York. Picasso wanted this painting to be exhibited at the Prado, with Velazquez and Goya, but not in a still Francoist Spain. It was not without difficulty, but from October 1981, six years after the death of the dictator, people from Madrid and passing tourists could admire the pacifist masterpiece – first at the Casón del Buen Retiro and then since 1992 at the museum. of Queen Sofia.
His monumental work makes him one of the most emblematic contemporary Spanish painters of the 20th century.e century, alongside Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Moreover, all three were associated with the promotion of Spanish tourism at the dawn of 1992, a key moment for Spain which, according to the condescending French press, was entering ” modernity “ with the Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Universal Exhibition in Seville and Madrid, cultural capital.
Dalí’s work then appeared in tourist campaigns, while from 1991, Miró’s sun became the visual identity of Spanish tourism.
Only now, after several decades of associating Picasso with his famous dove of peace, declined in the form of pins and posters, the artist is severely questioned. From the 1980s, feminism questioned and disrupted a deeply masculine history of art which tended to reproduce patriarchal structures.
Along with the actions of Guerilla Girls (group of anonymous female artists) who denounce the invisibilization of women artists in museums, several recent exhibitions tackle this subject: the Prado is interested “to machismo in 19th century Spanish art” while the Luxembourg Museum presents the “Pioneers” artists of the XXe century, at the risk of essentialization. Popular publications and revelations are emerging on the lesser-known parts of Picasso’s personal life – and it’s not rosy.
In May 2021, the podcast “Did Venus wax her pussy? » looks at the Picasso case. It is about misogyny, tyranny, physical and psychological violence, rape. Julie Beauzac, its creator, bases her comments on the works of Arianna Huffington, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer (1989) and Sophie Chauveau, Picasso, the Minotaur (2017) as well as on the statements of the artist’s relatives.
Posted at the height of the #MeToo movement, this podcast has been a phenomenal success. It is the famous debate of the separation between the man and the artist, between the minotaur and the genius, opposing those who want to erase Picasso – teachers also mention the refusal of certain pupils to study him – and on the other hand its defenders who have no harsh enough words for the former.
Under these conditions, what to do with Picasso?
Towards a third way?
In an attempt to open a third way, museums are reacting. In Paris, with the opening of a Picasso Study Center by 2024, conferences, a poster by feminist artist Orlan, and at the Brooklyn Museum with an exhibition on Picasso and feminism.
Between the danger of cancellation – cancellation in English – pure and hard and the impossibility of ignoring the production of an artist who revolutionized the history of art, it is a question both of favoring pedagogy, of not forgetting the necessary contextualization, of insist on the constructive aspects of the painter’s life and work – his prolific side, his humanist political commitment – but also to reconsider the women who crossed his life, whether they were artists, muses, victims or three at a time.
In this perspective, documentaries, reports and artistic proposals abound. Amande Art thus offers a tribute to the choreographer Eva Gouel, the photographer and painter Dora Maarthe dancer Olga Khokhlova, the painters Marie-Thérèse Walter, Fernande Olivier and Françoise Gilot through collages. In Barcelona, the art historian María Llopis and her students even organize a performance event at the museum wearing “Museo Dora Maar” T-shirts.
A work of visibility of the women artists who gravitated around the painter, whom we should know other than as “women of”, is in progress – without however erasing Picasso and his work.
And tourism in all this?
Despite the controversies, Picasso’s works always sell for exorbitant prices, and his popularity is such that we sometimes even forget his nationality.
It is this facet of the artist that the Franco-Spanish commission wants to highlight this year. Picasso will indeed never be French : he discovers the country at the age of 20, really settles there in 1904, asks for nationality in 1940, it is refused to him for acquaintances with anarchism and communism. When France came back to him to naturalize him, it was he who declined the proposal. But can we say it in Spanish? He spent most of his life in France, only occasionally returning to Spain; he will not go there at all under Francoism.
With this in-between, the Franco-Spanish commission in charge of the Picasso year associates him sometimes with France and sometimes with Spain. It is not a question here of opting for erasure, but it is not a question of giving it absolute praise either.
During a presentation of the celebrations organized in Vallauris, in the Alpes-Maritimes, where the artist stayed from 1948 to 1955, Picasso’s ceramist friend Dominique Sassi had evoked the current debates then, with an undeniable talent for storytelling, shared his fond memory of the artist.
On both sides of the Pyrenees, there is therefore always a question of encouraging tourism through the figure of the artist. The promotional campaign of Turespaña, the organization in charge of tourism promotion, highlights the creative spark, the inspiration. Picasso’s true muse is Spain – no more abused women. The slogan “Spain inspired Picasso. Come and find your inspiration » aims to create a link between the territory, the artist and the tourist. But it is above all a question of highlighting the emotional relationship of the tourist with the country. A recurring communication process (already used in the slogans of previous campaigns: “I need Spain”, “Spain is a part of you”, “Spain is alive in you”.
We insist on inspiration, the possibility of self-realization through travel; Picasso appears as the one who opens the way. In the words of Miguel Sanz, director of Turespaña, it is a question of going beyond the tourist gaze usually placed on his country by looking at things “in another way, like Picasso”.
THE spot features a young couple admiring The Ladies of Avignon at the Málaga Museum – a tapestry created from the original exhibited in New York. Then something clicks that launches a race in the city against a backdrop of vitaminized sixties pop Bring a little lovin’ of the Spanish group Los Bravos (1968), brought back into fashion by Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in 2019. The places crossed come to life, adorn themselves with a thousand colors and cubist shapes.
Apart from the nod to his famous marinière, we forget the artist a little, right down to the slogan and the final banner “Picasso celebración 1973-2023” on a blue and pink background. Picasso is no longer an end in itself but a gateway to a personal experience.
This is ultimately what a good part of the program offers: to arouse the curiosity of tourists from the places or things that aroused that of Picasso, such as rock art, the great masters of the Prado and landscapes.
This campaign aims to encourage the cultural tourism desired by the Spanish authorities to relieve congestion on the beaches during the summer season. A challenge to which tourist institutions have been working for several decades in order to upset the persistent image of a country of “sol y playa”; the character’s ambiguity remains intact.