More Picasso? The announcement of yet another exhibition devoted to art’s most sacred monster is liable to
provoke a sense of fatigue and (dare we say it?) resentment. Happily, these feelings melt away entirely before the sheer sensual delight of the 175 ceramic works now on view at the Metropolitan Museum. Organized by London’s Royal Academy, this rare and
engaging show reveals the master in a minor mode that is among his most appealing.
At an age (65) when people generally think of retiring, Picasso threw his unparalled energies into a new medium. Most of his pottery dates from the decade following World War II, when he was living in the south of France. The works reflect both the radiant light and color of the Mediterranean and the faux primitivism of the 1950s. For his forms, he dug through ancient ceramic history,
fashioning tanagras (urns modeled upon Hellenistic
statuettes of standing women), amphorae, “Aztec” vases, and
pseudo-Etruscan imitations of archaeological fragments.
Above all, he seems to have amused himself considerably. His “zoomorphic” vases, based upon the hollowed-out, abstracted shapes of rams and birds, betray a childlike pleasure in transformation. He painted bullfighting scenes on long oval platters and the face of Françoise Gilot on the flame side of casseroles. And he was not above turning his attention to leftovers, like fish bones and lemon quarters. Luminous green plates are adorned with terra-cotta lamb chops, french fries, forks, and sausages. Picasso’s pots never served any useful purpose, but they play with the idea of utility. And though his favorite “vessel,” the female figure, recurs in them repeatedly, they’re mercifully free of angst and misogny.
They celebrate the power of the artist’s eye and hand
to transfigure domesticity.