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Art

Picasso Museum Reborn

Just a year after its grand reopening, the Musée Picasso in Paris is reinventing itself yet again.

By Vincent Noce via The Art Newspaper

The museum is opening a new presentation of the world’s richest Picasso collection today (20 October), to mark its 30th anniversary. The rehang is part of a campaign by the museum’s president, Laurent Le Bon, to re-energise staff and repair the institution’s reputation after a highly contested renovation that closed the site for five years.

The director plans to invite one young and one established contemporary artist to present work in the museum each year. This month, the French artist Raphaël Denis will unveil an installation that alludes to the looting of paintings by the Nazis in the 1940s. An exhibition by the Spanish artist Miquel Barceló is due to follow in March. 

Le Bon’s mission is to forge new partnerships and make the museum’s collection more widely available. This is a complete turnaround for an institution that had become famous among curators for hiding its treasures. The museum sent its largest loan ever, consisting of 50 works, to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for its current survey of the artist’s sculpture (Picasso Sculpture, until 7 February 2016). In March, MoMA will lend eight works to the Paris museum for its own show, which focuses on bronze editions. 

Le Bon plans two big exhibitions a year. In 2017, he will present a show dedicated to Olga, Picasso’s first wife, whom he depicted in his Ingres-inspired drawings (but who has not been appreciated by art historians). Another display will chronicle the year 1932, when Picasso was sculpting the famous heads of Marie-Thérèse in his studio in Boisgeloup. 

Next year, Le Bon is also due to stage the first major exhibition to compare the work of Picasso and Alberto Giacometti, in partnership with the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti.

New direction

The new permanent collection display is Le Bon’s first signature initiative after replacing the art historian Anne Baldessari in a controversial shake-up last year. (As part of an unorthodox agreement with the museum, Baldessari organised the reopening show after her departure.) The reinstallation aims to show the artist “as a researcher rather than an icon”, Le Bon says. “We want to have the audience enter his studio and glimpse his intimacy, his daily life.” Spread over 40 rooms, the exhibition will comprise around 1,000 items, including 400 postcards, letters and newspaper reviews.

On the lower level of the museum, curators have recreated the atmosphere and the bric-a-brac that surrounded the painter, including tiny wire sculptures and a postcard from Salvador Dalí. A chronological display on the first floor begins with Picasso’s arrival in Paris in 1900 and ends with his retrospective in Avignon in 1973. 

The upper floors are more innovative: one gallery is dedicated to Picasso’s political life and another focuses on his relationship with the model and his connections with artists such as Joan Miró and Henri Matisse. 

The new display illustrates “the artist’s working process by putting the archives at the heart of the show, in close contact with sculptures and paintings”, Le Bon says. The museum’s collection, which comes from Picasso’s family and estate, includes nearly 5,000 works of art and 200,000 archival documents.

French favourite

The public is clearly enthusiastic about rediscovering the great master of Modern art in the place bearing his name. Over the past year, the museum welcomed almost a million visitors. Seventy per cent came from France, a remarkable figure for a national museum (in comparison, 70% of the Louvre’s visitors are from abroad). 

Nevertheless, the ill-planned renovation that led to Baldessari’s ousting made the rehang difficult. Staff do not have office space on site and the adjacent building is still under construction. There is no dedicated exhibition gallery or space to store works during installation, and the café and auditorium are too small for a museum of its size. 

Le Bon’s management style has, however, distinguished him from his predecessor, who was criticised for refusing to delegate. Le Bon “discussed the main directions of the hanging with the staff… and each of us was given a section to curate”, says Emilie Bouvard, one of the museum’s four curators.

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