Art Duet: Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera at LACMA
Written by Genie Davis
Through May 7th
There is something spiritually wonderful in simply viewing the works of Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera side by side. The differences in the two artists’ vision and their similarities, the ways in which both their art education and their fascination with specific movements dovetailed, and the exceptional beauty and precision of their work make this a compelling exhibition. This is the work of masters, after all.
On top of that essential, visual gut reaction, the long artistic relationship between the works of Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera is not often explored. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through May 7th, the museum, with assistance from Mexico City’s Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, examines their respective practices, and the influences they both experienced.
Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time references the two artists’ training, their mutual passion for Cubism, and how both were influenced by “objects of antiquity,” in other words historic artworks that they studied or were drawn to emulate and incorporate into their own works. But by far the most fascinating area of the exhibition is how they were influenced by each other. In over 100 paintings and prints, the show reveals how Picasso’s Cubist works influenced Rivera, while Rivera’s vibrant colors and sensual curves were absorbed into Picasso’s paintings. Viewers see how the artists incorporated their knowledge of each others work in their own.
The exhibition is divided into five separate sections that follow the two artists’ relationship, as well as the other influences the two shared. The exhibition presents the artists’ paintings along with inspirations such as Aztec art from Rivera’s own collection and a reproduction of the Venus de Milo.
Both artists’ relationships with classic artworks began with their traditional training at different schools – Picasso at the Academy San Fernando in Barcelona, Rivera at the Academy San Carlos in Mexico City. Seeing their different approach to studying these classic works is inherently interesting, but it is still the second attraction in the show. The first attraction is undoubtedly the section that juxtaposes the two artists’ knowledge of each other’s work.
The Cubist room, though small, is fascinating. It’s here the viewer sees a Rivera work that Picasso actually acquired: a Cubist still-life that Rivera painted, titled “Cubist Composition (Still Life With Bottle of Anis and Inkwell.” The piece has not been publicly exhibited until now. Despite this painting’s purchase, the relationship between the pair was not without some rancor. Picasso reputedly stole a technique Rivera employed creating foliage, which Rivera perceived as disrespect from Picasso.
The forever-unanswered question burns – what if the two had actually collaborated?
Instead, Rivera simmered against Picasso’s appropriation of some of his technique, in part due to the political nature of Rivera’s work at that time and what could be viewed as an interesting cultural juxtaposition: Mexican revolution vs. Spanish colonialism. The specific painting technique in question came from Rivera’s “Zapaista Landscape,” and was appropriated in Picasso’s “Seated Man,” retitled from “Man Seated in Shrubbery.” The reason for the retitle? Picasso in fact painted over the technique he appropriated when creating the shrubbery.
Overall, who borrowed from whom? Who was the greater artist, who was the catalyst for the most visionary work?
The short answer is that it doesn’t matter. The exhibit can be viewed as a purely pleasurable and beautiful collection of work by two masters, rather than as a decoding of their relationship and the creating of art history. This is a must-see exhibition for its stunning visual components as well as the art-detective work on display.
Note: two Rivera works were recently added to the exhibition “Zapatista Landscape” and “Flowered Canoe.”