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The 'other' Picasso in Bratislava

THOSE WHO appreciate only the 'trademark' Pablo Picasso, in particular his most famous cubist works, might be best advised to stay away from Bratislava’s City Gallery. Its exhibition Love and Death: La Suite Vollard is a collection of Picasso’s works, mostly etchings and dry points from the period between 1931 and 1936, which represent a transitional period between neoclassical forms of expression and surrealism.

Faun uncovering a woman, by Picasso. (Source: Courtesy of GMB)

THOSE WHO appreciate only the 'trademark' Pablo Picasso, in particular his most famous cubist works, might be best advised to stay away from Bratislava’s City Gallery. Its exhibition Love and Death: La Suite Vollard is a collection of Picasso’s works, mostly etchings and dry points from the period between 1931 and 1936, which represent a transitional period between neoclassical forms of expression and surrealism.

But those who would like to explore the works of the world-famous painter and founder of many progressive and pioneering artistic styles and movements should enjoy “the novel in pictures”, as the exhibition’s curator Fernando Castro-Borego called the selection of 100 graphic works lent by the National Museum-Centre of Art of Queen Sofia in Madrid. “Prepared as a set of stories; one could say the exhibition is like one big film – it needs good concentration, and some reading,” Castro-Borego told a press conference.

He continued by saying that the pictures, apart from reflecting the artistic change in Picasso’s style to more classical forms and also themes (the pictures show bacchanalia, satyrs, Minotaurs, and other characters from Greek and Roman mythology) they also indicate some of the author’s joys and sorrows in his personal life. The works have come to express desire and physical lust in their positive and joyous side, but also infidelity – like giving up his mistress Marie-Therese Walter for Dora Maar – sometimes brutality, and definitely also the loss of vigour and powers. The darkest aspect of this can be seen in the picture of a powerless, blind Minotaur guided by a helper with the face of Dora Maar, where the Minotaur stands for the painter himself. The relation between the sexes is depicted as a conflict, the eternal fight so often present in Spanish art – and explains the subtitle of the exhibition, Love and Death, according to the curator. The collection also includes a draft of one of Picasso’s most famous paintings, Guernica, one true to the style of his 1930s creations.

Castro-Borrego said that Picasso himself would probably have liked the placement of his works in the old building of the Mirbach Palace, as he tended to live in houses dating from the 18th century. It took 18 months to organise the exhibition and the manager of the Bratislava City Gallery, Ivan Jančár, said that although the works were lent from the National Museum-Centre of Art of Queen Sofia for free, just the costs of re-framing, packing, and transporting them, plus the insurance fees, mounted up to a point where he joked with Spanish Ambassador to Slovakia, José Ángel López-Jorrín, that as a final resort he would have to take a guitar and play in the street to raise money. But eventually the money was raised and the rare pictures could be moved from Spain to Slovakia to be shown to visitors in this part of Europe.

Castro stressed that such precious works, especially when complete in a collection, rarely leave their mother gallery or museum. Maybe it was the fact that he is a member of the board of patrons of the National Museum-Centre of Art of Queen Sofia and that he had previously visited the Mirbach Palace personally – as Ambassador López-Jorrín revealed – that helped to seal this unique agreement.

Some of the exhibited works are surprisingly tender and playful, some show hidden aggression and power, as well as lust and the desire to conquer. All have English captions. Picasso’s Suite Vollard (so named as it was originally ordered by art sponsor Ambroise Vollard, and includes two portraits of him) can be seen in the Bratislava City Gallery, or GMB, until November 13. For more information, visit www.gmb.sk.


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