At the Tate Modern, there are a number of paintings by Pablo Picasso. Ten are currently on display (well, as of last week, this obviously changes). Interestingly, however, there is no room where you can see ‘the Picasso paintings’ in one place. Contrast this with the room of Gerhard Richter’s, or the gallery of Rothkos.
Of these ten pieces, they are displayed in the following rooms/exhibit spaces:
|Exhibit Name||Room Theme||Title of Art|
|Level 5: States of Flux||After Impressionism (Room 3)||Girl in a Chemise (1905)|
|Level 5: States of Flux||Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism (Room 2)||Seated Nude (1909-1910)|
|Level 5: States of Flux||Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism (Room 2)||Bust of a Woman (1909)|
|Level 5: States of Flux||Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism (Room 2)||Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)|
|Level 3: Poetry and Dream||Surrealism and Beyond (Room 2)||Head of a Woman (1924)|
|Level 3: Poetry and Dream||Beyond Surrealism (Room 2)||The Three Dancers (1925)|
|Level 3: Poetry and Dream||Surrealism and Beyond (Room 2)||Dora Maar Seated (1938)|
|Level 3: Material Gestures||Distinguished Voices (Room 5)||Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle (1952)|
|Level 3: Poetry and Dream||Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (Room 5)||The Kiss (1967)|
|Level 3: Poetry and Dream||Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (Room 5)||Nude Woman with Necklace (1968)|
Five (well, 6 if ‘Beyond Surrealism’ and ‘Surrealism and Beyond’ are counted differently, as the Tate suggests) different exhibits for the pieces. For instance, the Bust of a Woman hangs next to Albert Gleizes’ Portrait of Jacques Nayral.
Why this? Why no Picasso gallery? Because Picasso is serving a different purpose than Rothko or Richter – rather than showcasing an artist, he is anchoring various categories of modern and contemporary art. Picasso provides the entry point for any number of schools of art, because he was influential in creating them, but also because he is understood as the epitome of a contemporary artist. More versatile than Warhol, more accessible than Cezanne, Picasso currently provides the starting point for understanding surrealism, vorticism, the contemporary ‘sublime’ (paired with Bacon).
Categories need centers, and commensuration depends on a ‘third metric’ that can stand outside of other, otherwise qualitatively distinct objects to render them compare-able. Just as cardinals or robins stand in for a central kind of ‘birdness’ against which hummingbirds and penguins can be ‘measured’, in late modern art, Picasso-ness is a measure against which other kinds of art categories can be understood.
Sure she’s good, but is she ‘Picasso-good’?