Prince/Picasso

Over spring break, I had the pleasure of visiting the Mediterranean city of Málaga, on the southern coast of Spain.  The bustling Spanish port hosts a large variety of contemporary art, mostly public art pieces, but also has a small number of contemporary art museums.  Among these is the Museo Picasso Málaga, established by the relatives of Picasso in honor of his birth in the city.  The museum and the city of Málaga go to some effort in disguising the fact that Picasso spent very little of his life in Málaga, instead exaggerating his presence in the city with sculptures and paintings throughout the city, as well as demarkations as to his birth place, residence, and other important landmarks of his early childhood.  Though the collection at the Museo Picasso is not very strong in terms of well-known works by the painter, it does represent a great deal of Picasso’s early paintings and sketches, which allow some insight into the development of the artist.

Since the museum’s Picasso works are not enough to fill the space, The Museo often hosts exhibitions of other artists’ interpretations or artistic responses to Picasso.  Currently, the Museo is displaying a provocative and controversial exhibit by everyone’s favorite re-appropriation artist, the American Richard Prince.

For the exhibition, entitled “Prince/Picasso,” Prince assembles a series of works that combine black & white nude photographs with the Picasso-esque cubist painting style.  (See the full exhibition online here.)  Here are some examples:

Prince’s interest in Picasso’s use of the body and development of the body within his paintings is obvious in these works.  He By collaging what Prince believes is a “Picasso-like painting method” with photographs of nudes, Prince is commenting on representation and abstraction of the body–how the “true” forms of the body may only be as true as the interpretation. True to his own methods, the nudes used in these works are not Prince’s own photographs, but rather those torn from Anatomy Drawing instructionals.  The drawings appended onto these photographs are Prince’s own.

Prince stands in front of one of his pieces displayed at the MPM.

Most of the work in the exhibition examines the extremities within the style of Picasso, attached to the photograph of the trunk.  In this way, legs, arms, and heads become distorted extensions of the photographed nude forms.  The backgrounds of the pieces are intentionally left raw, often covered with haphazard brushstrokes and other mess.  Colors are almost absent in the pieces, to mimic the black and white of the photographs.  In these drawings and paintings, Prince clearly adheres to the principle of variety through repetition. Though the subject matter is deliberately restricted – nude female models, sometimes alone, mostly in groups – Prince’s graphic treatment keeps it exciting.

The exhibition has been subjected to a varied stream of critique, and indeed it is the subject of much controversy among Picasso scholars and the public alike.  The term “cannibalisation” is thrown around quite a bit, by those opposed to and supportive of the work.  One positive review of the work, in the Online journal “Frieze,” writer Sam Steverlynck states, “Prince has deformed the models, turning their faces into a grin – in some cases into the head of a faun, their hands into claws and their legs into paws, expressing the same uncanny mix of eroticism and cruelty as Picasso once did. Rather than copying Picasso’s style, he manages to translate the raw sexual energy into a language of his own.”

I do not know what to think of the work, other than the fact that I think Cannibalization is the wrong term to throw at this exhibition.  I found the reinterpretation to be interesting, despite the occasional pang of resentment of Prince’s techniques of what some have called a “systematic ripping-off” of some of my favorite painters.  I try my best to keep an open mind about Prince and his continuing pursuit of re-appropriation.

2 Responses

  1. This is really interesting, I don’t know what to make of it but I wouldn’t say that Prince is ripping off Picasso.

  2. I agree with the above comment. I don’t think that Prince is necessarily ripping off Picasso, because to me, I think the two artist’s works still differ from each other in some ways. I enjoyed seeing these photos, and I liked that they were large enough to understand what it going on in them. The whole concept of appropriation is one that I have discussed in many classes, about many types of art, including music. That is one conversation that really interests me, and so I was glad that I came across your post. I can’t say that I enjoy Prince’s work, but I think that it is still able to evoke some sort of emotion in its viewers, which is important.

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