The work of Pablo Picasso has been considered one of the most vitalist and categorical affirmations of modernity. The unpredictable volition of the free author, the public exhibition of the painter’s intimate sphere and the ascent over any prior historical model, including the historical avant-garde movements, contributed to strengthening the Promethean myth of the modern artist. This seminar, held in conjunction with the exhibition Pity and Terror. Picasso’s Path to Guernica at the Museo Reina Sofía, asserts that Picasso’s contemporary relevance, and modernity’s, does not respond to these obvious and recurring arguments; it responds on the contrary to the artist’s ability to connect with the meaning and experience of a time which distinguished a large part of the 20th century.
Devastation, catastrophe, annihilation and mass destruction, words eminent 20th century historians such as Eric Hobsbawn and Tony Judt predominantly applied in their descriptions of the past centennial inside an extensive and long cycle of modernity. These descriptions all come into force with the appearance of the overwhelming and implacable machine used at the service of modern warfare. This machine has been represented and characterized by the imagery and effects of the bomb, both in the total and remote destruction from the air, and by the appearance of the notion of “collateral damage” instead of “victim”. One of the most significant examples of this implacable destructive apparatus is the Basque town Gernika being razed to the ground in 1937, prompting Picasso to react by painting the modern icon that still flutters on the streets of Syria, Palestine and Irak, recent examples of other modern aerial deaths. Guernica, and its universal scope, is also interpreted as a cul-de-sac in the historical relationship between the avant-garde and social reality and, therefore, as a monumental and isolated work in Picasso’s broad artistic production.
This seminar, in taking up the theories set forth by the exhibition, upholds that the symptom of war and its pathology on the body, psyche, and space inhabited Picasso’s work for a long period of time before and after 1937. For instance, they are more conspicuous in the physical mutilations of the female figure, the militarised bodies, the progressive disappearance of private space in the bourgeois interior, the monstrous and innocent creatures that bear sharp and destructive extremities… characteristics of the artist’s painting in the preceding years, which largely depict a world of pleasure and menace, carnal excess and profane sacrifice, culminating in Guernica. The seminar will be structured into four parts: on one side, an encounter between T. J. Clark, Anne Wagner, the show’s curators, and Rosario Peiró focused on the exhibition and, on the other, three conferences conducted by Charlie Miller, Nancy Berthier and Eugenio Carmona, who will examine, respectively, the relationship between Picasso, Documents journal and Georges Bataille, the influence of the mass media information (cinema and photography), and the impossibility of unambiguously “interpreting” Guernica.
Wednesday 5 April
Sabatini Building, Auditorium. English with Spanish simultaneous translation
T.J. Clark, Anne M. Wagner and Rosario Peiró. Encounter centred on Pity and Terror. Picasso’s Path to Guernica.
In collaboration with: illycaffè
Tuesday 18 April
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200. English with Spanish simultaneous translation
Charlie Miller. The Politics of Myth. Picasso, Bataille and Anti-Fascism.
Monday 24 April
Sabatini Building, Auditorium. Spanish with no translation
Nancy Berthier. The Absent Image. Picasso and Film.
Thursday 4 May
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200. Spanish with no translation
Eugenio Carmona. The Political Economy of Guernica.
T.J. Clark, art historian. A professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, he has also worked as a lecturer at Harvard University, the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and at the Universities of Leeds and Essex. He is the author of Picasso and Truth. From Cubism to Guernica (2013) and Farewell to an Idea. Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999), and other monographic studies
Anne M. Wagner, art historian. A professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, she has worked as visiting professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. She is the author of A House Divided: American Art since 1955 (2012) and Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner, and O’Keefe (1996), among others. Together with T.J. Clark, she is co-curator of the exhibition Pity and Terror. Picasso’s Path to Guernica.
Charlie Miller, art historian. A professor of History and Art Theory at the University of Manchester, he has published essays and articles on Picasso, Surrealism, Georges Bataille, the magazine Documents, Antonin Artaud, and poststructuralism. He is the author of Radical Picasso: History, Theory, and the Avant-Garde (2017).
Nancy Berthier, film historian. She is a professor of Visual Arts at the University of Sorbona, Paris, where she also runs the Centre of Iberian and Latin American Studies. She has published the book Le franquisme et son image. Cinéma et propagande (1998), edited the volume Retóricas del miedo: imágenes de la Guerra civil española (with Vicente Sánchez Biosca, in 2012) and directed Guernica: de la imagen ausente al icono, a monographic edition of the magazine Archivos de la Filmoteca (2011).
Eugenio Carmona, art historian. A professor of Art History at the University of Málaga, he has been a member of the collection committee of the Cubist Collection from the Telefónica Foundation, and currently the Collection of Modern Masters from the Mapfre Foundation. He is the author of a wide range of written works and exhibition essays on Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris, and accounts of the avant-garde in Spain, including the shows El cubismo y sus entornos (MNAC, 2005) and Picasso and Spanish modernity: works from the Collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Palazzo Strozzi and Banco do Brasil, 2015).