FOR RELEASE IMMEDIATELY OR FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2006
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PICASSO IN LITTLE ROCK: PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION
By Paul Greenberg
Tribune Media Services
With apologies to T.S. Eliot, in this room the women come and go/talking of
. . . Picasso. The scene is the Arkansas Arts Center here in Little Rock,
where a show called Pursuing Picasso is having its preview, and the din in
the atrium is overpowering as people pursue one another over wine and
A latecomer feels as though he¹s walking into the arena after most of the
bulls have been slaughtered, but the hardiest aficionados have stayed late.
It¹s a nice change after thinking about politics all day ‹ a step into the
surreal, or maybe into the real. Picasso is like that: so surreal he¹s real.
He kept stepping out of the arbitrary frame where time had placed him and
playing tricks on the rest of us still inside the picture.
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Art, like faith, is transcendent. Picasso transcended art and returned to
Ortega y Gasset speaks of the sportive origins of civilization, as if it all
began with the hunting pack and the organization and coordination it
required. Picasso demonstrates the sportive origin of art, only his is not a
team sport. He plays singles only. Him against the world as it drably was
before he came along to illuminate it, to turn it inside out and every way
You may not approve of the result, but you keep looking anyway. Approval or
disapproval has nothing to do with it. It¹s like bullfighting that way.
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The first Picasso on display hits you in the eye as soon as you step into
the gallery, filling the wall like a stomach-churning carnival ride. It¹s
striking, all right, especially the putrid green. Like a pie in the face. A
key lime pie.
They¹ve brought my favorite picture out of cool storage for the show: Pierre
Bonnard¹s ³Marthe Entering the Room.² Gouache, pencil on paper. So simple,
so overwhelming. It¹s like meeting an old girlfriend on a crowded sidewalk ‹
an unexpected, embarrassing pleasure. You¹re mind-tied, and don¹t know what
to think. Even more than before, the sensations come rushing at you: the
sense of expectation; the assurance of the familiar; the awareness of how
much you¹ve changed even if she hasn¹t; the tug of old love. Bonnard¹s
picture blanks out everything else all around; the crowd disappears. There
is nothing but you and it.
Once upon a time I would go home at the end of the day, sit at the end of a
long, narrow light-filled kitchen and nurse a drink while watching a woman
prepare supper. We would talk, but I can¹t remember a word we said, or if we
said much at all. Only the picture of it remains in my mind, suspended in
time, simple, watercolor soft, pencil on paper. And the peace of it. Like
Marthe entering a room.
Picasso, I think, will be anticlimax.
³That¹s not painting, what he does,² Picasso said of Bonnard. Maybe it
isn¹t. Maybe it¹s better.
Bonnard was greater than Picasso because, even if Picasso despised him,
Bonnard admired Picasso. He kept a reproduction of Picasso¹s post-cubist
³Woman Seated in a Chair² in his studio. I keep a reproduction of ³Marthe
Entering the Room² taped to my office wall. High up. I can go for days,
weeks, without looking at it, or remembering it¹s there. Then I look up.
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I should be taking notes on the Picassos, but I can¹t tear myself away from
the Bonnard, and soon it will be closing time, and the lights will dim.
I don¹t think much about life after death. Too abstract, too much
responsibility. Isn¹t enough enough? Don¹t we ever get to lay our burden
down? On those thankfully rare occasions when someone tries to talk to me
about the next world, I feel like replying, ³Please. One world at a time.²
But looking at Marthe forever entering the room, the promise and assurance
of it, it¹s hard to ward off an intimation of immortality, the feeling of a
world everlasting, the door always open, Marthe always about to enter. The
artist¹s love for her is evident in every line and soft color. It fills the
picture, the gallery, the museum, the world, overflowing into the next.
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Diego Rivera¹s cubist women (³Two Women,² 1914) have been rolled out for the
show, too, as a kind of preface to Picasso. It wouldn¹t be the first time
the preface outshines the book. ³The damned best thing in the museum,² a
woman says. I have to agree. It shimmers. Like a myopic¹s view of the world
without his glasses. It¹s the world a moment before it was ready to be
revealed. Its essence doesn¹t quite fit into its outlines yet. Surfaces
shift, edges become interiors, reality is still fuzzy. We¹re left to feel
our way about. And the picture is large. Like the world beckoning.
The plodding heart of the show consists of some minor early Picassos, all
worth seeing, and a very late collection of scrawlings on cardboard, notable
for their author, not their art. Plus a selection of the artist¹s ceramics,
stuck on like a separate wing of a nice jewelry store.
It¹s not Picasso¹s fault he¹s outdone at his own show; every museum is
limited to the pictures it has or can beg, borrow or get on extended loan.
And the Picassos on display tonight are less than his best. Secondary, maybe
not even tertiary, examples of his work. Just glimpses of Picasso. Some may
be riveting, but they¹re still only glimpses.
The Picassos turn out to be an afterthought, the reason for the show but not
the best in show.
Talk about works of art, nothing in the show is quite so touching as the
young women walking about in their simple summer frocks on a June evening.
Nothing on the walls so artfully combines sincerity and artifice. Are they
hunting this evening or being hunted? Both, probably. On them, the malice of
time has not yet worked its wisdom, thank God. They are still only cunning.
The show, which began June 2, runs till Sept. 3, at the Arkansas Arts Center
in Little Rock. Its best works go from here to eternity.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is
© 2006 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.