Picasso had a lifelong fascination for tribal art. He was a keen collector, deriving both inspiration and strength from his extensive collection. Picasso admired both the austere beauty and totemic aura of tribal masks and sculptures. He described ‘the African sculptures that hang around my studios’ as ‘more witnesses than models’ – a source of power and truth, as well as beauty.
A new exhibition in Oxford contrasts unusual works from many of Picasso’s key innovative periods, with tribal art works similar to those in Picasso’s own collection, which was sold for over $11 million in Paris in 2011.
‘What we’ve aimed to do was to juxtapose striking and rare examples of Picasso’s work with outstanding West African statuary and masks, to demonstrate the vibrant artistic resonance between them,’ Aiden Meller, the Gallery’s director said.
Inspired by a visit to the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero (now the Musée de l’Homme), Picasso stylized French prostitutes as African masks in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Elements of the formal clarity of the African tradition can be seen in the geometric rigour of cubism.
‘If we give form to the spirits we become independent of them,’ Picasso said. ‘The spirits, the unconscious… it’s the same thing. I understood why I was a painter.’Apart from inspiration, and the learned side of this exhibbition, it’s worth a visit just to see Picasso’s sense of humour, in an annotated doodle of himself.
All works are for sale.
Alison Boulton (DI Reviewer), 24/10/12
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