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Past and Present
Face-to-Face with Picasso

A major exhibition offering a new perspective and inspiring a rereading of art history

This season, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) invites visitors to reflect on the issues raised by the ‘decolonization of the colonial gaze’ and perceptions of identity, aesthetics and culture through two exhibitions: From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present and Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art, presented side by side in a continuous layout.

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present looks at the transformation in our view of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Following milestones in the life of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and in history, the exhibition explores the close relationship between the Spanish master and these arts, focusing on the history of attitudes. Throughout the show, works by contemporary artists of African descent provide a counterpoint, increasing the points of view on the international history of art that requires rethinking.

This season, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts invites visitors to reflect on the issues raised by the ‘decolonization of the colonial gaze’ and perceptions of identity, aesthetics and culture…

Dan artist, Côte d’Ivoire, Gunye ge anthropomorphic mask,
20th c. Paris, Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. Photo © Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac / Claude Germain

Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator, MMFA, and curator of the Montreal presentation, explains, “This project appealed to me since it enabled us to tell the story of the decolonization of the gaze over a century, that of Picasso: He was born in 1881, a year before the opening of the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro and four years before Africa was divided among the European colonial powers in Berlin in 1885. He died in 1973, before the last African decolonization, Angola in 1975. This century plays out here like a book in which the emancipation of an entire continent recounts the emancipation of the gaze, of appropriation to re-appropriation.”

“How have ethnographic objects come to be viewed as art? How can a Picasso and an anonymous mask be exhibited in the same plane? What were the stages in this ‘decolonization of the gaze’ from the last century to the present day? In Montreal, the exhibition tells the story of ‘the museum of the Other,’ from the legacy of a colonial world to its current redefinition as a globalized one. Taking a cross-cultural approach, we invited contemporary artists from Africa or of African descent into this narrative. Cultural Eurocentrism must be reviewed in a history of art yet to be reinvented: the borders that used to mark the accounts of modernism are now blurred.”

‘[The exhibition] looks at the transformation in our view of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas from the end of the 19th century to the present day.’

Perspectives and expertises interact in Montreal

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Papua New Guinea, New Ireland, Melanesia, Crested Helmet Mask tatanua, 19 th -20 th c., carved and painted wood, operculum shell inlay, fibre. MMFA, gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

Combining the viewpoints of various experts and artists, the exhibition conceived by Nathalie Bondil is a prelude to a new wing dedicated to ‘World Cultures and Togetherness,’ which will open next year. It offers encounters that narrate the evolution of attitudes and of art history. Erell Hubert, Curator of Pre-Columbian Art, MMFA, remarks, “By presenting on an equal footing artworks from over thirty-five countries, this exhibition enables us to appreciate the immense and too often neglected diversity of the arts of Africa, the Americas and Oceania and to wonder at the ways in which these works arrived in Europe and how they were reinterpreted there.”

Cultural Anthropologist at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, Shelley Ruth Butler, explains, “I worked with the Museum as a ‘disruption agent’ helping to identify opportunities to deepen our vision of a critical, reflexive, and inclusive exhibition. The result is a richly layered, multivocal exhibition that interweaves art and history to tell a story that is larger than Picasso. The exhibit encourages reflection on appropriation, and on the power of art to address legacies of the past, to enact resilience, and to envision alternative futures.”

‘Combining the viewpoints of various experts and artists, the exhibition […] offers encounters that narrate the evolution of attitudes and of art history.’

Dominique Fontaine, independent curator and Founding Director of aPOSteRIORi, continues, “The exhibition From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present also gives a glimpse of the vitality and dynamism of contemporary African art. The works by contemporary artists presented here bear witness to the fact that Africa and its diaspora belong to the here and now and to the world.”

An adaptation of an exhibition mounted by the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in partnership with Musée national Picasso-Paris

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Edson Chagas (born in 1977), Emmanuel C. Bofala, Tipo Passe, 2014, chromogenic print. Private collection. Courtesy of the artist

The MMFA has adapted and expanded an exhibition launched in 2017 by the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, a co-production with the Musée national Picasso-Paris. “The place of non-Western art in the international history of art was asserted just over a century ago. For its part, the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac contributed to this legitimization, most often in the wake of great precursors, artists and collectors. Today it is important to turn back to a creator who gave powerful impetus to this new viewpoint.”, says Stéphane Martin, president of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac.

The initial exhibition as conceived by Yves Le Fur, Director of the Department of Heritage and Collections, Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, invited a dialogue between “the works of Picasso – not only the major works but also the experiments with aesthetic concepts – with those, no less rich, by non-Western artists. The constant presence of international artworks in his various studios demonstrates the degree to which Picasso always maintained a relationship based on admiration, respect, even fear.”

‘The result is a richly layered, multivocal exhibition that interweaves art and history to tell a story that is larger than Picasso.’

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Baga artist, Guinea, D’mba mask, late 19th-early 20th c., wood, raffia. Musée national Picasso-Paris, gift in lieu Pablo Picasso, 1979. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Béatrice Hatala

“The Musée national Picasso-Paris rejoices in this splendid partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for the exhibition From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present. This stage is a unique opportunity to present more than 70 masterpieces from the collection in a totally new perspective”, explained Laurent Le Bon, Director of the Department of Heritage and Collections at the Musée national Picasso-Paris. The exhibition brings together some 300 works and documents, mainly from the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and the Musée national Picasso-Paris. To this, the MMFA has added works from its collection, as well as loans from the Art Gallery of Ontario and from private collections and galleries in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Italy, England, the USA, South Africa and Canada. The exhibition reveals aspects of the material and spiritual cultures of traditional societies—in Africa in particular—challenging various misconceptions such as those of “an art without a past”, by presenting numerous works, mostly from Africa and Oceania, dating from the late-19th and early-20th century together with a number of early Iberian and pre-Columbian works.

‘The constant presence of international artworks in his various studios demonstrates the degree to which Picasso always maintained a relationship based on admiration, respect, even fear.’

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Artiste ejagham, Nigeria or Cameroun, female dance crest, XXth. Photo © Hughes Dubois Paris Bruxelles

Some 70 artworks issue from the collection of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, most notably an anthropomorphic Dan mask from Côte d’Ivoire, a Songye mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a Bahinemo hook figure and a Baining mask from Papua New Guinea.

Also on display, a large grade figure from Vanuatu, an Inuit mask from Greenland and an incised Taino anthropomorphic axe blade from the Lesser Antilles that once belonged to André Breton.

Other pieces came from the artist’s family and the Musée national Picasso-Paris, including a majestic Baga shoulder mask from Guinea.

‘The place of non-Western art in the international history of art was asserted just over a century ago.’

Works added for Montreal

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Zanele Muholi (born in 1972), Phila I, Parktown, 2016, photographic mural. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson, New York

The MBAM multiplied the encounters by adding leading artists from the contemporary art scene – mainly African or of African descent – who challenge a post-colonialist heritage with Omar Ba, Edson Chagas, Omar Victor Diop, Samuel Fosso, Romuald Hazoumè, Nicholas Hlobo, Masimba Hwati, Moridja Kitenge Banza, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Zanele Muholi, Pedro Pires, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley. Several of these works were acquired or are in course of acquisition by the MMFA.

At the beginning and end of the presentation, two video installations are shown for the first time in North America: representing South Africa at the Venice Biennale in 2017, Mohau Modisakeng presents Passage while Theo Eshetu presents his video installation Atlas Fractured, first shown at Documenta 14 in 2017. The exhibition also incorporates some outstanding loans from McGill University’s Redpath Museum and from Guy Laliberté’s Lune rouge collection, as well as a number of pieces from the Marquesas Islands and New Zealand in the MMFA’s collection.

‘The exhibition features almost a hundred works by Picasso […] which attest to the important influence of Africa and Oceania on his oeuvre.’

Outstanding works by Picasso in Montreal

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Bust of a Man (study for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon), Paris, spring 1907, oil on canvas. Musée national Picasso-Paris, gift in lieu Pablo Picasso, 1979. © Estate of Picasso / SODRAC (2018). Photo © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / René-Gabriel Ojéda

The exhibition features almost a hundred works by Picasso – paintings, sculptures, ceramics and works on paper – which attest to the important influence of Africa and Oceania on his oeuvre. Seventy of them come on loan from the Musée national Picasso-Paris. Numerous others are being loaned to the MMFA by the Picasso family and the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso. A huge collection of documents, letters, objects and photographs, together with 27 works from the artist’s personal collection, similarly testify that these arts accompanied Picasso throughout his life. The public will be able to admire some thirty works exhibited for the first time in Canada, including the canvases Mother and Child (1907), Baboon and Young (1951) and Head of Bearded Man (1938) and the bronze Bust of a Woman (1931). The exhibition also features the masterpieces Women at their Toilette (1956), Large Still Life with Pedestal Table (1931), The Kiss (1969), Woman with a Stroller (1950) and the original plaster of Baboon with Young (1951), and also presents astonishing works composed of assemblages, found objects and objects executed in torn paper and wire.

‘This international partnership […] will promote mutual understanding and the development of common practices, especially in terms of education and accessibility.’

A new educational partnership between the MMFA and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac

From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present celebrates a new alliance of cultural and scholarly cooperation between the MMFA and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. This international partnership, established following numerous meetings of the institutions held in Montre in March and in Paris last June under the auspices of Les Accords France-Canada, will foster an exchange of expertises between the MMFA and the French museum. It will promote mutual understanding and the development of common practices, especially in terms of education and accessibility.

“The Museum Belongs to Them”: youth gallery

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Women at Their Toilette, Cannes, January 4, 1956, oil on canvas. Musée national Picasso-Paris, gift in lieu Pablo Picasso, 1979. © Estate of Picasso / SODRAC (2018). Photo © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Mathieu Rabeau

The MMFA invited the young Montreal collective The Woman Power – a subdivision of Never Was Average – to create a retaliatory counterpoint to the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) in the shape of a positive platform representing Women in the exhibition. As part of the exhibition From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present, this Montreal Collective used social networks to invite its communities of women artists to produce a photograph in dialogue with Pablo Picasso’s iconic work. In a juxtaposed space, the public can pursue its reflection by participating in the creation of an evolutive mosaic, a complement to the installation The Real Demoiselles d’Avignon executed by The Woman Power. In tandem with the exhibition, in partnership with Fusion Jeunesse, an organization that promotes school perseverance and success, the Museum invited three classes from three Montreal secondary schools to discover first-hand the inner workings of mounting an exhibition. Under the theme of alterity and encounter with the Other, the budding curators selected artworks from the Museum’s collection that evoked these issues, and composed texts to accompany them.

‘In tandem with the exhibition, the Museum invited three classes from three Montreal secondary schools to discover first-hand the inner workings of mounting an exhibition.’

Acknowledgements

D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face – WestmountMag.ca

Kamayura artist, Brazil, mask, 20th c., feathers, wax, seeds, reeds, wood, awns. Paris, Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. Photo © Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac / Patrick Gries, Bruno Descoings

This exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous support of Stéphan Crétier and Stéphany Maillery, in collaboration with Tourisme Montréal. The educational area of this exhibition benefitted from the valuable patronage of Desjardins. The Museum acknowledges the vital contribution of Air Canada, the Angel Circle of the MMFA and its media partners: Bell, La Presse+ and the Montreal Gazette.

The Museum extends its thanks to Quebec’s Ministère de la Culture et des Communications for its vital support as well as to the Conseil des arts de Montréal and the Canada Council for the Arts for their ongoing support. The exhibition also received the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program. The Museum’s International Exhibition Programme receives financial support from the Exhibition Fund of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Foundation and the Paul G. Desmarais Fund.

The Museum would also like to thank its Volunteer Guides for their essential contribution, as well as all its members and the many individuals, corporations and foundations – in particular the Fondation de la Chenelière, directed by Michel de la Chenelière, and Arte Musica, presided over by Pierre Bourgie – for their generosity. We would also like to extend our gratitude to all those who, through their generous assistance, encouragement and support, made this exhibition possible.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion – Level 3
From May 12 to September 16, 2018

For more information, consult the site mbam.qc.caBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caImages: courtesy of the MMFA

Read also: Contemporary Black Canadian Art at the MMFA


Founded in 1860, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is one of the first museums in North America to build up an encyclopedic collection worthy of the name. It now numbers over 41,000 works from Antiquity to today, making it unique in Canada. It comprises paintings, sculptures, graphic arts, photographs and decorative art objects displayed in four pavilions. A fifth wing devoted to international art and education was opened in late 2016 to launch Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations. 

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