A provocative exhibition at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona shows the ways that Banksy, Basquiat, Vik Muniz, Chéri Samba, and others have embraced the legacy of the modernist master
“Picasso is not the greatest artist of our time,” says art historian Michael FitzGerald. “He’s not the one you have to take down—he’s someone to engage with as an equal.”
During much of Picasso’s lifetime, his works were regarded as the gold standard of modernist art. Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Arshile Gorky and other 20th-century artists channeled his style, while figures like Jackson Pollock competed with it directly. In an exhibition opening March 6 at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, FitzGerald showcases works by a diverse ensemble of international artists, who, rather than challenging Picasso’s art, have engaged in conversation with it.
Titled “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” the show features sculptures, photographs, paintings, and video installations by more than 40 artists living in 12 different countries. Faith Ringgold, Armando Mariño, Dia Al-Azzawi, Goshka Macuga, and Tadanori Yokoo are among the artists represented in the exhibition. By recycling, repackaging, and riffing on Picasso’s internationally recognized works and trademark techniques, these artists have made raw material out of what was once a definitive touchstone.
Here is a sampling of artworks that will be on view in the show:
“Bembe,” by Romuald Hazoumé
Just as Picasso employed unconventional materials to create his collages, Hazoumé crafts masks like Bembe (2012) using discarded gasoline canisters. By repurposing these plastic containers—which are symbols of progress and development—to form objects styled after traditional African artifacts, the Benin-born artist comments on the blending of cultures taking place in modern-day Porto-Novo.
“Quel avenir pour notre art? (What future for our art?),” by Chéri Samba
Congolese artist Chéri Samba examines Picasso’s legacy in this 1997 triptych. In the first scene (below), Samba replicated a 1952 photograph of Picasso by Robert Doisneau on the left side of the painting, and executed a portrait of himself on the right side. Unlike Doisneau’s original image, in which the artist’s hands are under the table and out of sight, Picasso’s right hand is seen here holding a pencil. He looks to his left toward Samba, who is situated at a table with a wooden log, a ceramic pot, and two wooden masks. As the work’s title suggests, it is unclear how these artifacts will factor into the future of art.
“Bird’s nest, in the Style of Cubisme,” by Zhang Hongtu
Zhang Hongtu created this work for an exhibition taking place at Beijing’s German embassy during the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Chinese artist used Picasso and Braque’s Analytic Cubist techniques to deconstruct the Bird’s Nest, the stadium erected specifically for the games. Zhang critiqued the Chinese government by overlaying architectural images with words like “Tibet” and “Human Rights” and the letter “J,” a reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The work was excluded from the German Embassy show.
“Picasso Quote,” by Banksy
Commenting on Picasso’s practice of reappropriating myriad images and styles in his work, Banksy reclaims a quote by the Spanish artist. Banksy engraved the phrase “THE BAD ARTISTS IMITATE, THE GREAT ARTISTS STEAL” into marble, and, in his signature bravado, scrawled out Picasso’s name and replaced it with his own.
“Untitled (Triptych),” by Jean-Michel Basquiat
In this 1983 triptych, Basquiat dissects and reconfigures a series of images that are unmistakably Picassoesque. On the left panel, a gestural, geometric nude assumes the pose of one of Picasso’s Demoiselles and a face in the central panel is depicted in the Spanish artist’s signature dual profile. Basquiat presents a skull on the bottom of the right panel—a nod to Picasso’s later works.
“Woman Ironing (Isis),” by Vik Muniz
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz created this massive digital C-print as part of his 2008 “Pictures of Garbage” series. To complete the works, Muniz enlisted the help the catadores, a Brazilian workforce that foraged for recyclable materials in a landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro. Muniz and the catadores collected objects from landfills and arranged them to resemble well-known artworks, such as Picasso’s Woman Ironing (1904). He then photographed the constructions before they were disassembled.
“Sops for Cerberus” by Rachel Harrison
In this 2008 mixed-media installation, Harrison draws from Picasso’s 1905 painting At the Lapin Agile. The blue, green, and yellow diamond pattern on her painted-foam structure echoes that of the shirt worn by the Harlequin character in Picasso’s canvas. That figure is said to be a self-portrait of Picasso himself. In the painting, Picasso toys with the idea that the artist is also a performer—a theme touched on in Harrison’s piece. Her diamond structure holds a projector that simultaneously plays scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) and clips of a New York street vendor selling vegetable peelers. She installed fake carrots on a shelf in her structure to support the merchant’s narrative. Her installation is both a movie set and an artwork.
“The Inevitable” by Ibrahim el-Salahi
Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi conceived this Guernica-inspired India-ink opus while serving out a six-month sentence in a Khartoum prison for allegedly plotting against the state. Through these nine Bristol-board panels, el-Salahi illustrates an uprising of the Sudanese people against oppression and strife. Muscular arms outstretch from a knot of chaos, their hands making triumphant fists and Islamic crescents. Just as Picasso declared that Guernica was not to return to Spain until democracy was restored there, el-Salahi mandates that The Inevitable not enter the Republic of Sudan until civil liberties are returned to the people.