’Many of us have already seen Picasso many times around the world, so we hope to show it in a new way.’ - Sir Paul Smith
Exactly fifty years ago, painter Pablo Picasso passed away on the 8th of April in his home in Mougins, France. As part of the fiftieth anniversary of his passing, a Picasso Celebration 1973-2023 comprising forty exhibitions lined up on Picasso’s works was initiated by the Musée Picasso-Paris. These exhibitions are planned to be held across Europe and North America. As part of the series of exhibitions and hosted in its own home the Musée Picasso-Paris, located within a 17th century private mansion in the heart of Le Marais, Picasso Celebration: The Collection In A New Light! opened in early spring this year.
Fitting to the trendy, independent fashion boutiques and coffee shops in the Marais, Musée Picasso-Paris invited British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith five years ago to art direct the exhibition spaces that displayed Picasso’s artworks within the museum. If you are familiar with Sir Paul Smith’s designs, synonymous with British tailoring with a playful twist in detail often using colour, the current exhibition is true to the style of Paul Smith. Not to mention Sir Paul Smith’s keen attention to architectural and interior details across the Paul Smith retail stores, this collaboration was one to look forward to. One can expect the quirks and eccentricity of Sir Paul Smith’s fashion within a spatial form, instead of clothes being worn, the walls, floors and ceilings became the blank canvas for the fashion designer’s philosophies to be translated onto. As you can imagine, the usual white cube art gallery aesthetic was completely challenged, rethought and re-presented.
In the autumn of 1901, a few months after the death of his friend Carlos Casagemas, Pablo Picasso developed a new style of painting, using a palette entirely in shades of blue. This gave his works an atmosphere of nocturnal cold and melancholy, and also coincided with his habit of working at night with only an oil lamp for light. In this period Picasso painted poignant portraits of solitary, anonymous figures such as beggars, prostitutes and drinkers, elevating their fixed poses into universal allegories of the human condition. His loyal friend the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, whom he met in 1905, said of this period in his art, ‘for the space of one year, Picasso lived this painting, wet and blue like the humid depths of the abyss, and pitiful’
Excerpt from the exhibition at the Musée Picasso-Paris
Admittedly, this was my first visit to the Musée Picasso-Paris, so unfortunately I do not have a previous point of reference to compare Sir Paul Smith’s interpretation with. I can, however, compare the experience to art galleries I have been to. This thoughtful linking of the art and the context it sits within is unconventionally challenging, pleasantly surprising and paints a larger picture of the whole. Even if one does not know much about Picasso’s paintings, moving through the exhibitions prompted various emotions and thoughts, carefully revealing the themes of the artworks to temporarily immerse oneself into the artist’s mind. This is such a refreshing way of presenting art and makes the art accessible to children even. Throughout the exhibition, the room that left the biggest impression to me is the aptly painted blue room representing Picasso’s blue period. The room was dimly lit, clearly conveying the theme to accurately portray the mood of the paintings, and also indirectly slowing down visitor’s footsteps.
As one moves up the 17th century mansion, arriving at the top of the stairs is a long ramp unexpectedly lined with a Paul Smith signature stripe rug. Peeling the rug off the floor to continue onto the vertical wall was a small but smart move that actually enhances the linear quality of the stripes. This moment was undoubtedly a Paul Smith moment where Picasso’s art momentarily disappears and the signature stripe takes center stage and quite a few selfies were observed taken along this ramp. The signature stripe rug is, of course, by one of Sir Paul Smith’s long term collaborators The Rug Company. Cécile Debray, the president of the Musée Picasso-Paris explained Sir Paul Smith’s love of colour as someone who “sees in the artist’s approach numerous echoes of his own relationship to things and images.” The new injections in the building and different rooms throughout the exhibition brings a playfulness and light-hearted perspective to Picasso’s artworks. What a way to introduce a fresh perspective into Picasso’s artworks that have been presented to the public for years.
Unexpectedly at the end of the exhibition sits Picasso’s last self portrait. The artist chose to paint himself in his younger years titled Le Jeune Peintre - The Young Painter, in a style that is foreign to his previous works. Staring at the painting, Picasso painted the young painter’s eyes in a way that seems lifeless and soulless, perhaps signifying his own short days remaining. Picasso eventually passed away from pulmonary edema, in simpler terms, his lungs were filled with fluid. Although Picasso’s eyes were lifeless and soulless, the young painter actually has a slight smile which may reveal the artist’s positive outlook on his approach to death. One can only imagine.
The Picasso Celebration: The Collection In A New Light! exhibition at the Musée Picasso-Paris, France is scheduled to continue until 27 August 2023. Although I am a first time visitor to the Musée Picasso-Paris, having experienced Picasso’s artworks in the Museo Picasso Malaga as well as the Museu Picasso de Barcelona, this Picasso Celebration: The Collection In A New Light! version art directed by Sir Paul Smith is certainly one that tells the artist’s story and themes in the most fascinating way. Link for further information to the exhibition.