Politics, Painting, and Pablo Picasso

Hello! As you might have already guessed, I'm a big fan of alliteration, and today's agenda presented an opportunity for a quirky title that I couldn't pass up. However, what was even better than the alliterative phrase were the events that made it possible, including a tour of the artist Ai Weiwei's newest work and time spent at the museum of Pablo Picasso! 

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is an important player in the world of political art. An outspoken critic of the Chinese government, he uses his art to make his own discontent visible not only to other Chinese citizens, but to people everywhere. 

The most recent exhibition of Ai Weiwei's work is on display at the Champ de Mars, one of Paris's most popular department stores. The exhibit is dedicated to the return of Ai's passport, which was seized by Chinese authorities in 2011 and only relinquished in the summer of 2015, according to BBC News. Following the confiscation of his passport, the artist was detained for 81 days without charge. While this might seem an incredibly disheartening situation to many, Ai remained hopeful that he would be released and able to travel freely, which he now is. As with every great artist, Ai has used this stressful portion of his life to channel his energy into his work. 

The pieces showcased at Champ de Mars are quite beautiful, but their purpose extends far beyond their aesthetic appeal. Ai incorporates prominent Chinese motifs into his pieces alongside not-so-subtle references to corruption in his native country. I cannot say that I understand all or even some of Ai WeiWei's work, but I do recognize its importance as an act of peaceful civil disobedience and an exercise of the right to speak freely.  

Pablo Picasso 

After spending an afternoon at the museum of Pablo Picasso, it becomes strikingly obviously that he was as much of a Renaissance man as the artists in Florence were. Though history remembers him as the father of cubism, Picasso's talents were not confined to just one style of painting or even one specific medium! 

At the beginning of his artistic career, Picasso painted and sketched in a relatively realistic manner. His drawings and portraits of his wife Olga were incredibly lifelike at the beginning of their relationship. However, as marital troubles arose later on, he began to depict Olga as an almost nonhuman, frightening creature. While it is doubtful that Mrs. Picasso was too pleased with this rendering of herself, the two portraits of Olga (only one of which will be featured in this post because of the graphic nature of the second) highlight the artist's incredible range. 

What was, in my opinion, the most intriguing aspect of Picasso's methodology was that he claimed that he simply painted what he saw. This means that his cubist paintings, such as that of the Sacre Coeur, were in part an extension of Picasso's own vision. When he gazed at the white church upon the hill, he knew exactly how it would look deconstructed in a cubist painting.

Visitors to the museum can also see examples of Picasso's foray into synthetic cubism, which involves using cubist techniques while incorporating three-dimensional objects. This intriguing artist's experiments did not end here, though, as he also dabbled in ceramics, sculpture, writing, and more. It would seem that Pablo Picasso was the 20th century's very own Michelangelo! 

Like Ai Weiwei, Picasso also briefly landed himself in hot water with a few powerful names in government. He was labeled a degenerate painter by Adolf Hitler in response to the debut of Guernica in 1937. This piece, considered by many to be Picasso's greatest work, depicted the aftermath of the German bombing of the Basque town Guernica. "Degenerate" was a dangerous title to be given under Hitler's regime, but the artist was never actually arrested by the Nazis. Later, as Stalin came into power, Picasso found himself in trouble with the state once again for depicting the ruthless Russian leader in a manner that the latter deemed unflattering. Fortunately, he still managed to avoide serious harm, but it is nevertheless interesting to note that the Father of Cubism may have been just as much of a political risk-taker as Ai Weiwei is today. 

The Picasso Project 

Once we reached the last leg of the museum we stumbled upon a small, dimly lit room with rich wood panel walls. Inside, there lay an array of empty frames stacked against the back wall. On these were the hastily scrawled initials of Jewish families whose collections of artwork were confiscated by the Nazis. This interesting display is part of The Picasso Project, Raphaël Dennis's mission to draw attention to the over 90 Picasso paintings lost as a result of Nazi plunders. Of these 90, many belonged to Paul Rosenberg, a Jewish man who worked as Picasso's art dealer. It was a truly heartbreaking and poignant exhibit that ensures we will never forget the paintings, and more importantly the people, taken by the Holocaust. 

Our class has learned a great deal over the course of this trip, and though its end is fast approaching I'm confident that our last few days will be full. Thank you for reading, stay tuned for more! 

Your Friendly J Term Blogger,

Kate Koch 

The Picasso Project
Picasso's drawing of himself...as he draws himself
Picasso's portrait of his wife, Olga, soon after their marriage
Picasso's sketch of the Sacre Coeur
Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei exhibit