Well, it’s finally ready: after several years of work (and even more than that on the part of the curators, Lizzy Cowling and Richard Kendall), we’ve actually brought all these amazing works together at the Clark, and “Picasso Looks at Degas” will be unveiled in just a few days! There’s nothing like seeing the real thing — paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures — going up on the walls or on their pedestals, after working with little thumbnail images until now. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself thinking “wow, those really DO go together”!
There are a lot of great moments in the exhibition — Degas’s famous In a Café (L’Absinthe) next to Picasso’s intense Portrait of Sebatià Junyer i Vidal, and The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen standing between two amazing paintings by Picasso, the early, violently-colored Dwarf and a Standing Nude the artist made at the same time he was working on his ground-breaking Demoiselles d’Avignon (the painted figures are posed almost exactly like the Little Dancer!). But one of my favorite moments is a more subdued one: three cases with small sculptures of dancers. Degas’s figures are carefully studied and modeled, and they strike identifiable ballet poses, like “grand arabesques” and “fourth position front.” Picasso’s, on the other hand, are comically exaggerated and distorted, with tiny little arms and huge, long legs, and heads shaped like half moons or little blobs. Frankly, they’re hilarious, but they also echo the ballerinas’ poses and clearly suggest exuberant figures moving through and taking up space just like Degas’s dancers do. And when you know that Picasso sculpted his figures just a few months after seeing Degas’s sculptures in an exhibition in 1931, the similarities between them just have to be more than coincidental!
I’ve spent the past couple years working on this material with Lizzy and Richard, and it’s been a fantastic project. I hope everyone finds the exhibition as thought-provoking — and as beautiful — as I have.
Sarah Lees, Associate Curator of European Art