Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Picking the Pope a Picasso

The Vatican Museums have announced that they are seeking to add some Modern and contemporary art to their world-class collection:

The Vatican Museums, half a millennium old and home to works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Caravaggio, are looking for modern art, the BBC reported. Francesco Buranelli, director of the museums, told the newspaper La Stampa that he “would like very much to have a Picasso” and plans acquisitions “above all in sectors like contemporary art.” The museums, founded during the papacy of Julius II (1503-13), are among the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, with paintings, sculptures, tapestries and maps that draw three million visitors a year.
According to their website, it does appear they've collected "Modern Religious Art," so I'm assuming this new shopping spree is dedicated to more secular works, but that's not clear. Still, although I'm sure he's a charming fellow, why should Francesco Buranelli have all the fun? I propose a bit of virtual curating. Given his entire oeuvre to choose from, which Picasso would you pick for the Pope?

Such a choice should not be made lightly. Although the Vatican Museums have a good deal of non-Christian art, it's important to make a selection that is appropriate for this context (i.e., some of Pablo's engravings would shock the blue right out of many a visitor's hair, I'm sure, so those are bad choices). Perhaps a bit of background will help. We know Picasso was an infamous womanizer and bon vivant, but what else do we know about his life that would help us choose an appropriate piece? I'm really looking for clues as to which piece/s he made that seem they belong in the Vatican Museums:
Although he used religious subjects throughout his career, Picasso apparently had little use for organized religion. His family did not seem to be particularly faithful, though his country was steeped in Catholicism. There is little mention of church-going in his biographies.
OK, so he didn't attend mass regularly, but he was familiar with religious subjects enough to use them. What else? What was Pablo's relationship with God like? The following quote gives us some clue:

God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things.
If, seeing Him as "only another artist," Picasso held God in the same esteem he did, say, Matisse, perhaps something playfully teasing, but ultimately respectful would be a good choice. Ah, but then I've gotten ahead of myself here. We're not picking a Picasso for God, but rather for the Pope.

I've generally viewed most Popes of my lifetime as charming in person (at least the public persona one gets via the media), but ambitious in political terms (which is their job, I imagine). But the most impressive quality they seem to share is the sense of humility they project, which puts them at odds somewhat with Picasso, who was anything but humble, as epitomized by this quote:

My mother said to me, "If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope." Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.
Which doesn't really help. Still, what do we know that would help us select the right Picasso for the Pope (who we'll treat as the position, not an invidual here)? We have a Spaniard brought up in a non-religious family during a rather non-religious time, who loved women and bullfights, and who was anything but modest about his abilities, but who was respectful enough to see God as an artist (which is quite a compliment from Pablo).

A "Dove of Peace" piece would be uncontroversial, but seems too trite:

During his early Madrid days, he had produced a number of works on religious themes, likes this one of his sister's first commnion:

First Communion, Signed P. Ruiz Picasso and dated 1896 on the lower right-hand corner, Oil on canvas, 118 x 166 cm (Museu Picasso).

but those hardly seem "signature" pieces.

A piece from the Blue period at first seems appropriate, espeically one about the realities of life, but then we've got Picasso's view of the reality of life competing with the Church's to consider, as delineated well by this piece

La Vie, 1903, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Perhaps it's best to go with a nice analytical cubist piece and leave it at that:

Le guitariste, 1910.

But again, that seems too trite:

Nah, the Vatican Museums deserve a major piece from Pablo's golden years. Let's take this calm, pleasing one away from the Met and give it to them: Girl Reading at a Table, 1934

Just kidding! Really! The one person I want less angry at me than God is Mr. de Montebello.

What do you recommend?


Anonymous JL said...

I can't look at La vie without remembering the fact that it was deaccessioned by the RISD Museum. Not one of their better decisions. I doubt the Vatican will get as lucky as Cleveland.

If they do get a Picasso, I'm afraid it'll be one of his more self-indulgent neo-classical paintings. I can see someone in Rome approving one of those.

7/18/2006 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Choosing one Picasso for the pope, it would have to be Guernica.
Hope in the midst of war: isn't that what the function of the church is? to provide a light for humanity in the darkest times.

7/18/2006 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Guernica was the one that popped into my mind, too.

7/18/2006 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous kris said...

Considering how the church helped legitimize General Franco, Guernica would be a perpetual slap in its face hanging its wall. As amusing as that idea is, it's not worth letting the Vatican have the piece. Maybe something more suitable would be La Infanta Margarita, from Picasso’s studies of Las Meninas- a dolled up daughter of the monarchy. Innocent in her appearance, yet emanating the power of her family. Symbolic of Mary and the church. However, I imagine Picasso would have considered a self-portrait hanging in the Vatican very interesting.

7/18/2006 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/18/2006 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Yes- Guernica is the one that fits as perhaps a minor reminder of the sins the church has committed.

The humble Catholic Church. That's a good one Ed.

7/18/2006 01:40:00 PM  
Anonymous heather lowe said...

I say Picasso's Two Sisters done in 1902.

7/18/2006 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I thought Guernica too, but then I realized that then you'd have to wait in those ungodly Vatican lines to see a mere glimpse of it as you were whisked past. The thought made me not want them to have one of the absolute best. I really enjoyed having the time to savor it in New York.

Why not The Crucifixion from 1930?

Its sunny yellowness confounds the tragic nature of its subject in an interesting and humorous way; in my opinion serious Catholics really should take that kind of thought to heart (I'm allowed to say that since I was raised Irish Catholic).

the figure on the right with his arms raised above his head -- as a kid I mis-perceived that figure as a happy onlooker, a big yellow man with a yellow afro, wearing red sunglasses and smiling at the scene because maybe he knows that the resurrection's coming, or maybe conversely because he really hates Jesus.

7/18/2006 04:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

This discussion is vain (sorry).

Modern art is extremely superficial under a religious light (sorry).

If they want to estimate contemporary arts under a religious light they should opt for a piece by Joseph Beuys.


Cedric Caspesyan

7/19/2006 11:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Ok, maybe that Rose by Jay Defeo.


7/19/2006 11:35:00 PM  

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