Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica

T.J. Clark. Princeton Univ./National Gallery of Art, $45 (329p) ISBN 978-0-691-15741-2
This masterful volume reproduces six lectures that U.C. Berkeley emeritus art historian Clark (Farewell to an Idea) gave at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 2009 as part of the prestigious Mellon Lecture series. The renowned scholar (and member of Retort, a Bay-area-based collective of radical leftist writers and thinkers) tracks Picasso’s work from the 1920s through the ’30s with gusto and precision, culminating in a close look at the 1937 masterpiece, Guernica. Clark entertainingly derides the bulk of writing about Picasso as “second-rate celebrity literature” that slavishly recounts the titillating parts of the painter’s biography while largely ignoring his monumentally important work. Distinguishing himself from that pack by discussing drawings and paintings, both famous and obscure, Clark argues that a ubiquitous “grimness” underlies the exuberant sex and violence Picasso portrayed during these years—years that saw the rise of all manner of real-life “monsters” in Europe. Clark argues that Picasso’s flight from Cubism and Nietzschean spirit allowed the artist to express Europe’s suffering between WWI and WWII, while later monsters, bathers, and Guernica allowed him to grasp an inner truth about life and existence. In making the case, Clark details a number of stages in Picasso’s work, always in exquisite prose. These include the painter’s early 1920s nudes; Guitar and Mandolin on a Table (1924); Three Dancers (1925); and Painter and Model (1927). This satisfyingly rigorous book is grounded in Picasso’s paintings and drawings throughout. 208 illus. Agent: Wendy Weil Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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