Film: 8973

Art + Architecture | 1980 | Sound | Colour

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Synopsis:

No film of Picasso himself. Early cubist painting provided by Pablo Picasso around 1907, reputedly the first cubist painting, entitled Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. According to the voice-over, some critics and historians claim modern art began with it. Picasso's painting is seen as a key move (the example) towards abstract art. The narrator Francis Frascini tells us the Demoiselles was a prestigious culture status, established by its history since completion. When Les Demoiselles D'Avignon was first seen on 1907 the reaction was of bewilderment and disapproval. So how has the painting acquired a supposedly secure meaning in modernist art history. Its home has been the museum of modern art since 1939, but prior to this it has only been exhibited twice publicly, in 1916 and 1937. This voiceover is married with several shots of the painting in close up. Why did Picasso not exhibit it until nine years after it was completed and what does it represent?, The meaning of the five naked female figures becomes clearer in a 1933 interview with Picasso. The original title for this picture had been 'The Brothel of Avignon'. Picasso refers to a brothel in a Avignon street in Barcelona and a close friend the French poet Max Jacob. Cut to Picasso's preparatory sketches. According to his original ideas there were supposed to be men in the picture. In these a sailor sits at a table surrounded by prostitutes who eat fruit from bowls. Another male figure enters from the left. In some drawings this figure is represented as a student, holding a book and skull. In other sketches the figure resembles sketches of Max Jacob. One study shows the sailor indifferent to the gaze of the prostitutes and rolling a cigarette. In the painting itself he banned direct references to make figures "sexual transactions are removed from within the picture and are relocated as taking place between the female figures and the viewer". The prostitutes stare blankly at the viewer in a similar way to Monet's Olympia (shown). In the drawing of Les Demoiselle's D'Avignon the fruit looks like a hasty and impoverished meal. In the final painting the significance of the fruit is less obvious. the interior is dominated by drapes and curtains which one used to both conceal and display the pictures and property of bourgeois urban society. Close up of the women on the left opening a curtain. She reveals the two girls with raised elbows with attitudes of display. The reading of the subject is complicated because the perspective is inconsistent. the two girls in the middle of the group can be read as vertically posed prostitutes, consistent with the other figures. This is at odds with the perspective of the table which is seen from above. By adopting multiple viewpoints Picasso identifies or intensifies the way the viewer reads the painting. The squatting figure combines a back and a front. She too stares at the viewer, her face an African mask. Above another masked face woman parts the angular blue drapes, to look at the event. The head of the woman on the left has a frontal eye and a profile head. The two central women have profile noses on frontal heads. This combination of viewpoints and use of drapes enable Picasso to integrate figures and background in a consistent range of angular forms. The angularity of the forms strip the figures of specific humanistic characteristics. Picasso deprived viewers of the signs which they would expect to identify in normal and convectional readings of the female nude. Signs which would be easily recognized in a painting like 'The Turkish Bath' by Ingres from 1862. For Picasso and his contemporaries, Matisse and Derain. This kind of painting represented a paradigm for the long established theme the collection of nudes. The subject, 'A Harem', is depicted with close attention to the rareness of flesh and a particular finish surface. The painting and nine of the preparatory works appeared in the art retrospective in 1905. In the late spring and summer of 1906. Picasso painted his own version of a Harem. Completed after several studies during his stay in Spain. Unusually posed female nudes are seen washing and grooming themselves and looked in by a male figure in the pose of a classical 'River God'. 'The Harem' was produced when Matisse was also involved with the theme of a collection of nudes. In 1905 Matisse exhibited Lux, Calme et Volupté. It is possible to see this painting and the Harem as compatible Avant-guille versions of academic salon type paintings. Although they must have been seen as examples of vanguard art at the time, they do not disrupt conventional ways of reading nude compositions. They are based on historical and nostalgic themes. the Demoiselles project began in a similar way with its series of figure statues, although the subject takes place in modern times. Picasso's image began as Spanish and symbolic, the straight holding of a book or skull signified a momentous man. Cut to early drawings of Les Demoiselle's D'Avignon. A traditional form of allegory remaining sensual man of his mortality and risk of damnation. Cut to the finished picture. The remainder of any direct references to Barcelona, the brothel of Avignon street becomes in modern version of traditional French subject. 'A Harem with its nostalgic view of oriental despotism is transposed into a commercial brothel. Picasso's spanishness, his store of Goya and El Greco images is noted here onto a French artistic tradition, and located in a French bourgeois mural and social order. Like other artists of this period, Picasso was concerned to demonstrate his competence with regard to traditional subjects. Ambitious painters were also involved in the demonstration of technical *******. In Picasso's case this was a representation of nudes in a contemporary environment. Which was neither dependant on the techniques of naturalism nor on the uniform surface of an impressionism, which was then regarded and dominated by a concern only on appearances revealing in stories about his satyr like charisma and his personal life. Picasso invested his work with characteristics of a southern Latin image. the Demoiselle's was constructed as a virtuoso performance, to compliment his personal image. the work became one in which Picasso sought his personal and technical concerns and which could also be an impressive representation of a psychologically and socially acute subject, full of pictorial drama. (Cut to shot of 'Turkish Bath) And may have provided Picasso with the theme of a collection of nudes, but Les Demoiselles frustrates the signs demonstrated in the end and still recognizable in 'The Harem' albeit in an avant-garde form. How can we account for the changes from 'The harem' to the Demoiselle?. It would be convenient to claim that this happened after January 1907 when Monet's Olympia was moved to 'The Louvre' from the relative obscurity of the Luxembourg museum in Paris. Monet's depiction of a prostitute has caused a scandal in 1865, has now afforded a sort of cultural respectability (cut to close ups of Olympia). The point is that the Olympia was hung next to the Arig's (Grand de Else?) (cut to this painting). The contrast between the two images could have been significant. In comparison to the Arig painting, the Olympia could be seen as a more realistic project, depicting a specific kind of woman from a specific social class. If Picasso was aiming at a degree of realism, similar to Monet it would have to be in terms of formal and technical characteristics which were being discussed in terms of contemporary artists, and this would have to involve Cezanne from 1900 to 1906. Cezanne was working on a series of large brothels. (slow zoom on one of these paintings) Although the one featured was not exhibited until the autumn of 1937. Cezanne's large scale made compositions. affected artists like Matisse and Derain. Cut to Derain's 'Three Brothels of 1907' . Like Demoiselles emphasis on scale, emphasis on nude figure composition and Cezanne type forms was an attempt to construct an ambitious modern salon work. The painting which Picasso finished prior to starting the Demoiselle is featured here, completed Autumn / Winter 1906. Cut to slow vertical pan of this painting. The women are depicted so as to conform with Cezanne's configuration. At the time, in some critics accounts Cezanne was seen as the latest classicist, with an air of poussany. The women also refer to the massive qualities of ancient Iberian sculpture, types of simplification associated with primitivism. Like many other artists, like Matisse and Derain, Picasso became interested in primitive sculpture. he saw more recently excavated Iberian examples at the Louvre in spring 1906. he was profoundly impressed by African sculptures like the one shown, owned by Andre Derain. In may / June 1907 he visited the ethnographic museum at the Palais de Trocadero. Cut to photograph of African mask, which show characteristics that Picasso was to employ in the Demoiselle. Why did primitivism become so important to artists. One reason was because it enabled people to construct an ambiguous pictorial space with broad creed of colour and angular form. Another was that the forms showed associated with French colonist, quite different from the fantasies of harems. Primitivism was also consistent with many contemporary critics views of Cezanne's paintings as classical (cut to 'The Bathers'). They saw his work as representing underlying forms. Idealized from natural ones rather than describing natural appearances. Their appeal to a French classical tradition was an attempt to provide an explanation avoiding any possible class associations for the representation of the nude, or references to the more sordid aspects of French colonialism. Picasso was a member of the Avant- Garde, had to engage with these notions. If even his intention was to signify prostitution, rather than actual nudes or exotic . Throughout all the prepatory stages a referral to Cezanne remains incorporated in the Demoiselles. The squatting woman is a direct reference to a Cezanne painting bought by Matisse in 1899. For the narrator from the start, Picasso wanted that reference to be clear. As for the rest of the composition he was less certain. He invested a great deal of time, effort and resources into Lees Demoiselle. It was like Monet's Olympia to be an important and public modern version of a major artistic theme. Unlike the Demoiselle the Olympia was not sent to the salon. It remained half covered and hidden by drapes at Picasso's Montmatre studio. The reported reaction of the few people who saw the Demoiselle was hostile. George Braque was scathing. Artists and critics sympathetic to contemporary art regarded the painting as perverse and a rude gesture of pessimistic aggression, especially when seen amongst other four figure compositions of contemporary vanguard art. In 1937 the demoiselle was bought by an American dealer, and in the same year it was shown to the same audience in Paris and new York. The curator of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr acquired the picture in 1939 and went on to amass a substantial collection of European art as part of the collection. The 1939 show, Picasso forty years of his art shown in new York and Chicago. The Demoiselle has been given a star role in modernist criticism and history. Alfred barr's foreword in the brochure placed the work in a historical context, as the first unbias picture. For the narrator Barrs's new, was part of an attempt to create a linear history in which Demoiselle's is slotted in at the research and development end of the cubist progression. Once the viewer recognized the subject, but was denied the conventional signs, the method of Picasso's depiction seemed incompetent, oppressive and deliberately perverse. the viewer could not fall back on traditional ideology associated with nudes. The Demoiselle becomes a critique of other works, shown up as normal points of bourgeois Ideology. The remainder of the film discuses the import of Picasso's work and how many of the aspects of his work become reworked into other pieces of work as a new form of representation.


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