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Picasso Primitif at Musee du Quai Branly

an exhibition reveals his bewitching primitive statues


Magisterial, beautiful and comprehensively documented. ‘ Primitive Picasso’ at the Musée du Quai Branly is pieced together like a police investigation and questions commonly held assumptions about the greatest painter of the 20th century,Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Or in other words how his discovery of so-called primitive art led the Spanish artist to created not only an aesthetic universe but a spiritual universe too. There are ritual works from Africa and also Oceania (the latter was obviously not the exclusive purview of Andre Breton and the Surrealists) as well as a hieratic and equally ‘primitive’ 12th century Virgin spotted in Gosol, Catalonia. I’ve often asked myself why Picasso was fascinated by ‘Portrait of a Woman’, a Henri Rousseau (Le douanier Rousseau) work he acquired in 1907 and kept until his death. But on seeing the Gosol virgin, the penny drops: the two female characters have the same expression, that same fixed look of a soul already somewhere else. At the Musée du Quai Branly exhibition they’re in touching distance from each other.

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