“Picabia Alert” is a recurring feature that takes note of shows that feature work by the wily French artist Francis Picabia (1879–1953). Its aim is to sate Picabia appetites until the Picabia retrospective opens in 2016 at the Kunsthaus Zurich and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
After a number of posts about later Picabias, we’re venturing back to 1915 today, when Dada was raging and Picabia was making his classic mechanical drawings, which often harbor slyly humorous and erotic undertones. This one, on view at Kunsthaus Zurich as part of a show celebrating the 100th anniversary of its prints and drawings department through April 19, is from a series of witty portraits that Picabia made of friends and colleagues, in this case the French-American photographer and critic Paul Haviland. (The Met owns a particularly famous one from the same year of photographer and dealer Alfred Stieglitz.) The electric lamp embodying Haviland is missing its plug, cut off from its power source. Art historian Willard Bohn suggests in his 2002 book The Rise of Surrealism that it is a reference to Haviland leaving New York, where he was part of the thriving scene around Stieglitz, to help his father with the family’s china business in Limoges, France. He ended up staying there and becoming a gentleman-farmer after his father’s death in 1922, cut off from the avant-garde scene of his youth. The title translates to Poetry is like him. Voilà Haviland.