Exhibition Love and Death. La Vollard Suite.

Town Gallery Bratislava


Pablo Picasso


Fernando Castro Borrego


Bratislava, Slovakia

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Last day: 


In the 100 copper engravings of the Vollard Suite that Pablo Picasso produced between 1937 and 1938, the dominant theme is erotic desire as the driving force behind the creative act. There is nothing like it in 20th century art. Everything revolves around the image of the woman. It can be said that in this series the artist tried to establish without prejudice his idea of the relationship between the sexes. Picasso’s world is organised as a struggle (agon). The action of the painting is triggered as a conflict of opposites, in the sense of Heraclitus’ philosophy. Discord and difference are the origin of life. Nothing could be further from the “noble simplicity and serene grandeur” that Winckelmann attributed to Greek art. The artist is the demiurge who organises the world while remaining a desiring subject. He observes and at the same time participates in the action. This split is fascinating. The two senses that intervene in a primordial way in this constellation of images are touch and sight. The former is represented in the figure of the sculptor, the latter in that of the painter. But in a broader sense it is a general allegory of the senses. Hearing and taste are also allegorically represented, respectively, in the idea of art as harmony (music) and as a banquet. The reclining figures are preparing to enjoy themselves. This paganism has clear Epicurean roots. Epicureanism is represented in this series as a philosophical ideal of life that has nothing to do with vulgar hedonism.

The exhibition is completed by a group of oil paintings which deal not only with the theme of woman as an object of desire (Vollard Suite), but also with his theory of vision. Of particular interest in this respect are his versions of The Painter and the Model, as well as other interpretations of female nature, such as the weeping woman and motherhood. These themes, which he addressed throughout his life, reveal the extent to which Picasso was obsessed with investigating the otherness of the female condition, involving himself in the process of vision and in the affective charge of the images. The representation of the female body was for Picasso an opportunity to describe the libidinal mechanisms of the subject’s vision. There is a specular relationship between the eye and the body. The energy of desire is refracted like light.

It doesn’t matter whether the subject looking at it is a man or a woman. Beyond the politically correct thinking and the anathemas that have been hurled at the artist by gender studies, which have branded his image of women as sexist and his vision of society as paternalistic, it is necessary to carry out a profound revision of these clichés with which feminist thought has been raging in a visceral and uncritical manner. It is simplistic to assert that The Weeping Woman betrays the artist’s sadism and that in the image of the model posing nude before the painter one can only see the macho objectification of her body. When Picasso depicts the brutality of man in the figure of the Minotaur, the rapist par excellence, he is only reflecting a cultural fact which does not prevent him, however, from imagining the moment when the blind beast is guided by the innocent hand of a little girl. But in the Vollard Suite there is also a dialogue between man and woman. She is the lover, the companion, the friend, the accomplice. There is no doubt that the “eye of Picasso” is masculine; to deny it would be absurd. And this is a subject that can and should be dealt with from a gender perspective; but at the same time it is urgent to review the clichés that have been built up about this gaze in the light of what we know of his conflictive relationships with the women who passed through his life.