‘Audiences will be delighted’: major Picasso exhibition set for Melbourne in June

The National Gallery of Victoria’s exclusive show will also feature more than 100 works from Picasso’s contemporaries

Seventy works by Picasso and more than 100 by 50 of his contemporaries will be heading to the National Gallery of Victoria, in an exclusive new exhibition that will open 10 June as part of the Winter Masterpieces program.

Several years in the making, The Picasso Century will be curated by the deputy director of France’s National Museum of Modern Art, Didier Ottinger. The show will chart Picasso’s impact on the 20th century through his relationships with other artists, poets and intellectuals, as well as the impact of the century’s events on him.

Mother and child (Mère et enfant), by Picasso (1907)
Mother and child (Mère et enfant), by Picasso (1907). Photograph: Musée national Picasso-Paris

“He is the key man for the century,” Ottinger said. “This show is about how a genius like Picasso could become a genius – he was in touch with everyone. The purpose of this show is to see Picasso’s work develop, from when he arrived in Paris as an impoverished artist, to the end of his life when he was living in the south of France.”

Despite both museums being in Paris, The Picasso Century is the first ever collaboration between France’s Museum of Modern Art, which is in the Pompidou Centre, and the Musée Picasso. Both are sending works to Melbourne.

The exhibition will include significant Picasso works such as Reclining woman (1932), The violin (1914) and Portrait of a woman (1938). It will also feature works by artists including Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse and Dorothea Tanning, as well as artists rarely shown in Australia – if ever – such as Natalia Goncharova, Wifredo Lam and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. The exhibition will also shed light on the Spanish artist’s interactions with intellectuals André Breton, Georges Bataille and Gertrude Stein.

Spread over 15 themed areas, it will include a room on Picasso’s relationship with communism, another on the Spanish civil war (his anti-war stance most famously captured in his 1937 masterpiece Guernica), and one about the creation of cubism, a movement pioneered by Picasso and Braque.

A very happy picture, by Dorothea Tanning (1947).
A very happy picture, by Dorothea Tanning (1947). Photograph: Centre Pompidou

But uniting the show will be Picasso’s notorious ability to absorb influences and ideas from the world around him, Ottinger said.

The NGV’s senior curator of international exhibition projects, Miranda Wallace, said Picasso is widely accepted as a genius.

“But you cannot have genius in isolation,” she said. “It is nurtured and prompted by the places, people and the context of how the artist is working and living. Picasso was like a sponge, absorbing everything around him.”

Woman lamp (1955), a vase designed by Picasso
Woman lamp (1955), a vase designed by Picasso. Photograph: NGV

His contemporary, the Romanian artist Constantin Brâncuși, was less kind. “Picasso is a cannibal,” he once said, describing Picasso’s remarkable if irritating ability to recreate the works of others with his own flair. Picasso biographer John Richardson once wrote: “After a pleasurable day in Picasso’s company, those present were apt to end up suffering from collective nervous exhaustion. Picasso had made off with their energy and would go off to his studio and spend all night living off it.”

Picasso’s sculptures will be shown alongside those of Julio Gonzalez and Alberto Giacometti, to demonstrate how he fed off the work of others. “Brâncuși thought that Picasso would be making Brâncuși sculptures the next day, but maybe better,” Wallace said. “That’s what everyone said – he steals but then he makes it better. He was a fascinating figure in that regard.”

While Covid has seen exhibitions shut early and artworks on loan trapped in lockdowns around the world, the NGV didn’t struggle to put this show together, due to the sheer logistics that were involved in securing the Picasso works before the pandemic.

Sign up to receive Guardian Australia’s weekend culture and lifestyle email

“We started getting the loans lined up five years ago, because so many of these works are in demand for exhibitions around the world,” said Wallace. “In Europe, they constantly have a Picasso show in many countries at one time. So to get them all reserved for one exhibition took lots of planning.

“We know that we won’t get the international visitation probably that we would have had in normal times. But for our local audiences, who are unable to travel as much or less willing to travel to Europe, I think they will be very delighted to see some of these works that they would otherwise be hoping to see in Paris.”

Picasso’s The violin (Le violon), 1914.
Picasso’s The violin (Le violon), 1914. Photograph: Audrey LAURANS/Centre Pompidou

The NGV exhibition comes two years after Matisse & Picasso, a major show at the National Gallery of Art in Canberra, was forced to close early due to the pandemic. It has been 16 years since the NGV’s last Picasso show, which focused on his relationship with artist and muse Dora Maar.

These days, a Picasso show is sure to be met with more fanfare in Australia than decades previous. In 1939, Keith Murdoch – Rupert Murdoch’s father – sponsored an exhibition of about 200 contemporary European artworks, including pieces by Picasso, Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh. It was shown in Melbourne town hall because the NGV couldn’t make space for it, then travelled to Sydney where the Art Gallery of NSW declined to host it. Picasso, along with the other artists, was displayed in the David Jones department store on George Street instead.

  • Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition 2022: The Picasso Century will run at the NGV from 10 June to 9 October.


Sian Cain

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘A genius is a sponge’: inside the new Picasso exhibition that isn’t all about Picasso
The Picasso Century at Australia’s NGV sees the artist share the spotlight with 50 of his contemporaries, and explains how one man could ‘catch and translate all the values of a time’

Elizabeth Flux

10, Jun, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
Why five AFL players are being suspended from the ceiling of a Melbourne art gallery
For three hours on Sunday, five players will be suspended in the foyer of the NGV, tied up in rope to recreate a famous mark

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

04, Jun, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
Long overlooked, Indigenous women’s art takes centre stage in Melbourne exhibition
From rainbow-painted skateboards to dilly bags woven from scrap metal, the bold and diverse art of Australia’s Indigenous women is finally on show at NGV

Brigid Delaney

15, Dec, 2016 @5:36 AM

Article image
Paris exhibition explores wide-reaching influence of Pablo Picasso
Picasso.Mania show brings together everything from paintings to film and advertising to trace how Picasso’s impact goes far beyond realm of visual art

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

07, Oct, 2015 @5:29 PM

Article image
Dazzling, subversive, confronting: inside Queer, a landmark Australian art show
From ancient Egypt to Kylie, this NGV exhibition celebrates camp, gender, love and activism, to dispel the idea that art ‘is heterosexual until proven otherwise’

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

09, Mar, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
From Athens with love: the NGV’s dizzying recreation of the Parthenon
Temple of Boom sees the ancient monument reconstructed and covered with art in the gallery’s garden, inviting the public to reflect on its beauty – and complicated history

Nathan Dunne

21, Nov, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Salvador Dalí diary up for sale in auction of surrealist artefacts
Sotheby’s in Paris to sell private collection covering intertwined lives of some of most famous dada and surrealist artists

Maev Kennedy

19, Apr, 2016 @7:35 PM

Article image
Vincent van Gogh exhibition headlines National Gallery of Victoria 2017 program
More than 60 van Gogh artworks, many never shown in Australia before, are the centrepiece of an NGV autumn/winter program that also features Katsushika Hokusai and Festival of Photography

Steph Harmon

16, Sep, 2016 @6:27 AM

Article image
The mind of McQueen: ‘No designer I’ve ever worked for could think like this’
Developed with Alexander McQueen’s collaborators and peers, a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria is a journey through the designer’s piercing abilities

Lucianne Tonti

09, Dec, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Basquiat and Haring paintings to go on show in blockbuster NGV exhibition
Crossing Lines will feature more than 300 works by the quintessentially 1980s artists

Stephanie Convery

17, Apr, 2019 @3:00 AM