Forty-five years after Pablo Picasso’s death, the artist’s lasting impact on the art world can be seen in exhibitions, the ever-escalating art market and a biography by his grandson Olivier Widmaier Picasso.
In New York to promote his book, “Picasso: An Intimate Portrait,” he said the U.S. was very important to his father. “Coming to America is like coming to visit cousins. It is like visiting part of the family. America is the one that made Pablo very, very famous and trendy,” he said. “If Pablo Picasso became a universal star after the second world war, it’s mainly because of the MoMA in New York, and its first director Alfred Barr.”
His visit coincides with Sunday’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale — 25 percent of which will be solely Picasso pieces — at Christie’s. The author’s grandmother Marie-Thérèse Walyer encountered the artist in 1927, when he spotted the teenager through the window of Galeries Lafayette in Paris and offered to paint her, pointing toward a book about himself as proof. Four years after the artist’s death, she took her own life. While many to be auctioned are ones Picasso recognized, the Parisienne said there is a portrait of his grandmother that he had never seen. The 1931 painting “La Lampe” is expected to garner between $25 million and $35 million.
“People are confused about the man Pablo Picasso and the artist. They’ve never understood that when Pablo was creating his sculpture, painting, a sketch, he was just referring to his own life. If you consider the numerous of women in his life, they were over a period of 70 years. They were not all at the same time. Even his divorce was complicated, when he tried to divorce in 1935 to marry my grandmother,” the author said. “You see how much the 20th century has been illustrated by Pablo Picasso. He experienced two world wars, one civil war in Spain, the evolution of society, the divorce, a second family…and Pablo Picasso was always a pioneer about all of this.”
While “politics, family, women and probably money” were important subjects to the artist, he also had all the makings of a media star, according to his grandson. “He was very instinctive about how to pose for photographers. After the Second World War, when you had all the news magazines like Time, Life, Paris Match, Pablo Picasso was a very good subject. He was famous, he had a great family, many children, he was supposed to be a great lover. He was a Communist on one side and a billionaire on the other side. He had all the ingredients.”
Regarding the Communist streak, the author noted after World War II, “the Communist party understood the best way to promote propaganda was to get along with artists. For what Pablo knew at that time, the Communist party was probably a kind of humanism. He discovered later that it was not really what he expected. At the same time, the art market was booming. Pablo Picasso has been part of that by helping different art dealers get higher prices.”
Recently in Rome to see the Picasso exhibition at the Villa Borghese that his art historian sister Diana helped unveil, Picasso said he is part of a “complicated, but small family.” During the trans-Atlantic flight to New York earlier this week he read about news regarding another complex character — reports that Leonard Cohen wrote a poem titled “Kanye West Is Not Picasso.” The author said, “When Kanye West did this album ‘Life of Pablo,’ it was confusing. People were interested if it was Pablo Escobar from Colombia or Pablo Picasso from Spain and France. That was a big question for me. Very quickly the album disappeared for many reasons probably — and not only because of music. It was probably due to reality TV.”
He continued, “As a French person, I’ve been a bit confused by Kanye West, especially when one week he is a Republican and a week after that he is a Democrat. Then he has a parallel life, and then he is Picasso and before God. It’s confusing for me as a foreigner.”
As a TV producer, Picasso is working on a documentary about the artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, who many know for his fountains at Versailles. That project will be part of a series and another series is already cued up. The latter will examine what is a master work. “We say ‘chef-d’oeuvre’ in French because a masterpiece from any artist is different according to the period, to the people, to the medium,” Picasso said.