“museums are just a lot of lies”

There had been nothing like it. A visual world formed literally in the image of Picasso. From fashion and department store advertising, to political caricature, the public was subsumed by these modernist forms of expression; the speed with which newlt invented visual forms passed from conception to studio and into the popular realm  had never been experienced before. Picasso encapsulated the shock of the new, the mass consumerist society with all the new technological wizardry of dissemination. Picasso was artistically at the core of this trauma involving a break in the continuity of existence.

Soler Family Lunching on the Grass. 1903. At this time he took portrait commissions to help make a living. Originally it had a background of grass and trees painted by another artist because Picasso did not have time to finish it. By 1913, when it was sold to the Cologne museum, Picasso had replaced the landscape with the blue background. Image: Wiki

It was, however, not always thus. Before WWI , Picasso’s were selling for a few hundred francs, but then prices began to rise slowly but steadily. In the early 1920′s prices collapsed because his dealer, a German jew named Kahnweiler had his property confiscated and the custodians dumped the paintings on the market at forced sales. After these enemy-property sales at auction, values rose steadily. As Picasso marched from style to style, each time making news as he concluded one and boldly introduced another, the tide of his acceptance gathered astonishing and irresistible force. His major painting of 1905, The Family of Saltimbanques, was first bought from him in 1908 for about $200; in 1931, Chester Dale purchased it for $31,000. An early Picasso pencil and watercolor poster, Au Moulin Rouge was auctioned for $1650 in 1950 and then $47000 only a decade later.

---Cattelan had agreed to let me be Picasso for half an hour. I had big dreams for my time slot. As curator Laura Hoptman points out in her essay accompanying the exhibition, Cattelan's Picasso is a "walking, three-dimensional fulfillment" of fears that museums might be dumbing down programming in order to appeal to a mass public. My plan was to make Picasso more radical. My Picasso would charge into the gift shop, scoop up a bunch of sparkly MoMA pens and run around the museum handing them out. In my fantasy, the people look up at me with the shining eyes and heartfelt gratitude of Tiny Tim. I did not discuss my scheme with Cattelan. His approach is hands-off, anyway. He never fabricates any aspect of his work. Picasso's head, for instance, was made by a sculptor in Milan who worked from drawings by cartoonist Umberto Manfrin. Not that Cattelan would have minded my plan. He initially wanted Picasso to panhandle in the museum, but the administration nixed that part of his project. Cattelan diplomatically called the change a "normal part of perfecting the work." --- Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine_pre2000/reviews/fusselman/fusselman12-4-98.asp

Famously, Picasso one said that museums were a pack of lies, and that people who make art their business were mostly imposters. But for all that, Picasso owed more to museums than his blast would indicate. The solid foundation of his public place began to be laid around 1910 by German, Swiss and Scandinavian institutions that were among his first large collectors. An example id family portrait on the grass was originally purchased in 1913 by the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne and stayed there until Hitler began to purge Germany of “degenerate art” , and had it exhibited in Munich as part of an intended chamber of horrors, after which, along with other modern works forced out of German museums, it was sold at auction in Switzerland on the eve of the war in 1939.

The greatest museum representations of all were those in Moscow and Leningrad, thanks to two pre-Soviet industrialists who were among Picasso’s earliest and heaviest purchasers before WWI. It is difficult to explain how these apparently quite typical businessmen, Shchukine and Morosov, came so early to recognize Picasso’s value.


DK: It’s not. It’s a party line. It’s Fascist.

DT: I was just getting to that. Fascist is an interesting word because when we speak of the “Degenerate Art” show we are speaking of the condemnation of Modern art by this doctrine.

DK: But there is something else going on. Let’s go back to the “Degenerate Art” show. I have this theory which I have written about. I argue that the Nazis were perceptive; they saw something that was there in the art; but what they did not understand what was there in the art was in the society. The artists were talking about – if you want – the degeneracy in the society: the savage etc. So the Nazis – in their corrupted notion of purity or Aryanism – felt threatened. They did not like the underside showing. They did not like

r own underside showing – their own aggression, their barbarism. But there it was in the art, so they called it “degenerate” because it was threatening. It was threatening because it touched them on the inside. The fascinating thing about the Nazis is that they had a passion for art. Do you know the book “The Rape of Europa” [Lynn H. Nicholas 1995]?

…Now the Nazis were not unperceptive about Modern art – it’s just that they did not like what they saw because it was really a split off part of themselves.

DT: Yes – it had power because it was.

DK: Yes, exactly. Unless it had that power they would not have responded to it so negatively.

DT: And they would not have wanted to destroy so much of the art. That’s why people hid the art both during and after the war, which is why a lot of this art did not surface at auctions for so long. Right after the war people kept the art hidden because they were afraid it would end up being destroyed again. Read More:http://dks.thing.net/Donald-Kuspit-Diane-Thodos.html

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2 Responses to “museums are just a lot of lies”

  1. jerome says:


    interesting article. Would you mind sharing your references for the price at which Chester dale acquired Saltimbanques in 1931 ? One interesting sale is also the one of la peau de l’ours in 1914 where saltimbanques was sold for 11500 fr. thank you in advance

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