ST. PETERSBURG — Crowds filed in to The Dalí Museum on a chilly Tuesday morning in February to see the exhibition of works by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso — evidence that, after all these years, his work is still a draw.
“Picasso and the Allure of the South” explores Picasso’s creative periods during his travels and in his studios in southern Europe, in the mountain towns of northern Spain and along the Mediterranean coast of France.
Organized in collaboration with the Musée national Picasso-Paris, which holds the most significant collection of the artist’s work, the robust exhibition features 79 paintings, drawings and collages spanning 65 years from 1907 to 1972. Approximately half the works have never been seen in the United States before. The exhibit is being shown exclusively at The Dalí and was curated by William Jeffett, the museum’s chief curator.
Since Picasso is synonymous with cubism, a style that still bewilders many viewers and draws comparisons to work a child could do, its history and tenets are explained in the exhibition. One wall label calls cubism a “stylistic experiment in which multiple points of view are collapsed into a single image often representing a figure, still life or landscape.” Picasso and Georges Braque invented the technique, which had its heyday from about 1909 to 1914; examples of Picasso’s early work from this period are included in the exhibition.
As part of the installation, names of towns and landscapes in northern Spain and southern France are on the walls and the floors, giving a sense of place to the areas that inspired Picasso, including Cadaques and Figueres in Spain and Cannes and Céret in France. There are references to the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains. In these places, cubism evolved and allowed Picasso to engage with his artist friends who were drawn there for the vistas, poetry, art and music.
After 1914, cubism was not as en vogue, as other movements, like surrealism, came to the forefront. Picasso was always reinventing his style, but elements of cubism remained in his work throughout his life.
By 1920, Picasso was moving from cubism to realism and was working in Juan-les-Pins, a town on the French Riviera on the shores of the Mediterranean. A photograph showing Picasso lying on the beach gives an idea of the relaxing lifestyle that made the area so attractive. Two works he created, Landscape at Juan-les-Pins (1920) and Luncheon on the Grass, after Manet (1961), are displayed side-by-side. In the landscape, Picasso is pushing the boundaries of cubism while depicting the colorful houses and pleasant weather. He redefines Manet’s luncheon painting by making all of the lounging figures nude and shifting the female’s gaze from the viewer to the male figure.
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Musicians who played in the cafes and streets of Céret were a great inspiration to Picasso. There are a number of works on paper depicting various instruments and musicians, as well as the painting Musician, from 1972, proof that he was inspired by the subject throughout his life.
Picasso had a great passion for bullfighting, and a section of the exhibition is dedicated to that fervor. He made dramatic paintings of bullfights, including Corrida: Death of the Bullfighter. In 1933, after a 25-year prohibition on female bullfighters had been lifted, he introduced a figure based on the female bullfighter Juanita Cruz in etchings. Those etchings also refer to his intense affair with French model Marie-Thérese Walter.
There are 45 photographs of Picasso in the exhibition, revealing an envious lifestyle. There are a few of him in one of his studios, wearing only a pair of white boxers. A birthday celebration shows Picasso with a decanter of wine with his friend, French poet Jean Cocteau, who holds a glass of wine.
In keeping with The Dalí's effort to blend art with technology, guests can turn themselves into a cubist painting with Your Portrait, which uses artificial intelligence technology. It’s also educational, explaining the principles of cubism while it reads your face and background. What it does best, besides giving you an entirely new look, is illustrate the kind of vision Picasso had when he pioneered cubism more than 100 years ago.
If you go
“Picasso and the Allure of the South” remains on view at The Dalí Museum through May 22. $12-$29. Advanced timed tickets are required. Masks are required. The museum is open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. It will be closed Feb. 25-27 due to the Firestone Grand Prix. 1 Dalí Blvd (Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE), St. Petersburg. 727-823-3767. thedali.org.