Picasso Quiz

I was at MoMA yesterday with some out-of-town guests and every other New Yorker with his out-of town guests, when suddenly I found myself on a Picasso hunt.  It was right after I enjoyed a wonderful cheese-based lunch in the 5th floor cafe, which came right after I visited Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World and Balthus’ The Street while waiting for our table to be called.

I may have mentioned before that I get lost in museums.  You can hand me a map, but unless I walk around with my nose in it, using a highlighter, I’m still going to get lost. So it was that at last I found myself facing Picasso’s Three Musicians on one side of a doorway, and his Three Women at the Spring on the other side.

Three Musicians

Three Musicians

Three Women at the Spring

Three Women at the Spring

Most artists are lucky and talented if they can do one thing well.  My best thing is actually traditional sculpture, but it exacerbates arthritis in my right thumb to work in clay, so I mostly do my second best thing, which is draw.  Looking at Picasso’s two works I was stunned by his range and his bravery at trying new forms of expression.  The important thing to remember is that no matter how arrogant he seemed, he couldn’t know that these paintings would work while he was making them.  That’s the bravery part.  And his limitless imagination encouraged him to start new phases over and over again during his long life.

Girl Before a Mirror

Girl Before a Mirror

The next Picasso I found is one of my favorites (because of the color): Girl Before a Mirror.  Then quickly I ran into Seated Bather, one of the scariest.  I started to hunt Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, perhaps his most famous painting, but never did find it.  Remember: lost!

Seated Bather

Seated Bather

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

I used to say that I admired Picasso but wouldn’t want to live with most of his paintings. After yesterday I think I would like to live with all of his paintings.  I could admire the genius and forget the misogyny.  And I haven’t even mentioned Guernica.  It is one of my mantras that no one can make anyone else’s art.  It is too personal.  There will never be another Picasso.

Here’s the quiz.  Can you look at the five paintings shown here and tell in which order they were painted?  Answers are below, but don’t peek yet.

Don’t peek.

Don’t peek.

Don’t peek.


1907     Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

1921     Three Musicians and Three Women at the Spring (the same year!)

1930     Seated Bather

1932     Girl Before a Mirror

Unless you already memorized these facts for a test, I bet you got them wrong.  I know I did.  What an amazing brain Picasso must have had to not only paint these pictures, but in this order.  He was ahead of his own time, and I think must still be ahead of mine as well.


The Amazing and Wonderful Rain Room

We stood in line for three hours yesterday to see MoMA’s new installation: Random International’s Rain Room.  (http://random-international.com)  It was worth every minute.  I would stand in line again today for three hours to see it again.

Random International's Rain Room (photo by the artist)

Random International’s
Rain Room
(photo by the artist)

At the time, I kept wondering why the line moved so slowly.   The attendants were letting in ten people at a time, but we were only moving about 20 feet each hour.  What was going on in there?

And then, after my five friends and I had laughed, learned lots of new American Sign Language from our deaf friend Mava, gossiped about our personal lives, AND eaten lunch standing up, it was our turn.

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  I have not experienced such wonder since Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread (see post of January 9, 2013).  If you haven’t read about the Rain Room yet (http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1380), it is the simplest of installations: inside a large dark room it is raining.  As you walk through the rain, you remain dry.  The machine senses you and moves the rain away.

I began to realize why the line was moving like a fat turtle.  We couldn’t leave because we were playing.  I ran.  I stopped suddenly.  I stuck one arm out.  I moved toward the light and then away from it.  I took lots of pictures (encouraged by the museum).  Everyone else in the Rain Room was experimenting, too.  We had gained power over the elements.  We were children, believing in magic and watching it at work around us.

It was the simplest of installations, but it changed our world, making us believe that anything was possible.  It has been a long time since I felt that kind of joy, and it was wonderful. Three hours, four hours, it doesn’t matter.  Go stand in line.  The exhibit closes on July 28th.


The Invention of Abstraction at MoMA

František Kupka
Localization of Graphic Motifs II

For those of you who think that Abstract painters are taking the easy way out compared to figurative artists (the “my kid could have made this painting” school of thought), I have one piece of advice: try it.  Try to create the illusion of space without reference to nature.  Or harder, try not to create space at all.  Try to make compositions that engross and delight and perplex without including nudes or flowers.  Paint polka-dots without accidentally turning them into tablecloths.  It’s really difficult.  I know – I keep trying.

The current MoMA show Inventing Abstraction is an encompassing look at the origins of abstract art.  For a complete rave review, read Roberta Smith in the New York Times:


I’m only disappointed that the show doesn’t discuss why individual artists across Europe and Asia suddenly began abstracting their paintings in 1910.  This is as revolutionary as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz inventing the calculus separately at the same time.  Where did abstraction come from?  What caused men and women to abandon figuration in favor of something so incredibly new? (And I don’t include Cubism in the new.  Cave paintings are cubist.  They came from the natural instinct to depict objects as we know them instead of as we see them.  Ask any six-year-old artist who puts 4 legs on every dog, no matter his point of view.)

I’ve always assumed abstraction came from the wave of revolutions that swept through Europe, but those were mid-19th century.  Surely the artistic response would not have taken 60 years.  And I’d like to blame the Russian Revolution and World War I for giving artists a new and bleak view of the fracturing of the world.  But those occurred several years after the beginnings of abstraction.  I’ve been told that it was our ability to see the world from the sky: hot air balloons and the Eiffel Tower.  But they also predate the paintings by a wide margin.  Some people say that abstraction was a reaction against photography, but again the timeline doesn’t work.

Perhaps it was the intellectual building-up of what turned into the first World War.  Perhaps it was artists seeing the world around them as out-of-sync with their experiences of inequality, and the growing feeling of monarchy as archaic.  Perhaps abstract art was not the result of World War I, but a reflection of what caused it. Maybe abstract art made revolution possible.