A Conversation with Diana Widmaier-Picasso

Diana Widmaier-Picasso, a granddaughter of the artist, is sipping black tea on the second floor of the Gagosian Gallery in Paris. Born in Marseille, Widmaier-Picasso was brought up in Paris, the daughter of Pierre Widmaier, a shipping merchant, and Maya Picasso, the only child of the artist’s mistress and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter. Widmaier-Picasso became professionally interested in her grandfather’s art after studying business law and art history in Paris and then working at Sotheby’s as an expert of Old Master drawings.Now, her grandfather’s work — particularly his sculptures, for which she is working on an anticipated catalogue raisonné — takes up the majority of her professional focus. Her latest project is curating “Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter,” on at Gagosian in Paris until December 22. Showcasing Picasso’s works mostly from the 1930s and 40s, Widmaier-Picasso has brought together a collection of portraits of Marie-Thérèse and Maya, paper cut-outs made for Maya, and sculptures. In this interview, Widmaier-Picasso opens up to Modern Painters about her mother, grandmother, and the artist himself.As Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter, were there any particular challenges in growing up, in finding your own place?As a child I was always passionate about art. I did theater, played music, took dancing classes. I was aware that my grandfather was very famous and that he was a painter, but then it took me a while to understand his real genius. So no, it was not really overshadowing. It was something that gave me freedom to learn about art.What is the core argument you’re trying to make in this exhibition?I think all this research on DNA now [informs the exhibition]. What is a human being? Where do we come from? It is very much at the core of [the exhibition], because, here, and also the time when we are born, determines who we are. It is important in the exhibition to keep in mind that Picasso is depicting his first child. She symbolizes hope in that world. She’s also a reflection not only of his beloved muse Marie-Thérèse — my mother — but also of himself. So you see in the portraits that he’s projecting himself and Marie-Thérèse. He knows — from the heart — himself and Marie-Thérèse. He also knows the mother of Marie-Thérèse. So I find it fascinating to see the exploration of the mirror of yourself within a daughter. Has it been, in some way, a curatorial advantage to you that you never met your grandfather?I think sometimes it was an advantage to meet people who knew him, at least. I would have loved to know him, of course, but I think it’s important to get different opinions of people who knew him and then I can build my own reality. He’s a man of many faces. So even if I knew him, I’m not quite sure which face he would have shown me.How did that affect your curatorial decisions? Was there a desire to get every facet of him or to just focus on one “face”?No. I wanted to have as many portraits of Maya as possible, but also to extend it to that period. So we have portraits of Marie-Thérèse because, as I said, it’s a mix of Marie-Thérèse and himself. And there are portraits also of people whom he cared for: the mother of Marie-Thérèse, or the nanny of Maya. So, I wanted to show the context. Context is important. And also photographs. Because, photographically, you see in the portraits here that [there are] a lot of profiles. He asks Maya many times to pose, which he wouldn’t do normally. There’s almost a quality of Germanic Old Masters to these portraits. You know, the great moment in the history of portraiture is the Renaissance and Picasso. Picasso is adding a very strong psychological dimension to the character. He’s almost like a “psychological cubist.”What does it say about Picasso that he created these drawings and paintings of his daughter and his wife that are actually reflections of himself? That it’s all about desire. You know, I think he had a lot of desire for Marie-Thérèse. A childlike expression of desire. It symbolizes something palpable, which is love. So, I think there’s a lot of love in these portraits.Do you think this exhibition holds any surprises or subverts any normal understandings of Picasso?Yes. Of Picasso and my mother. Yes. It shows that he’s intrigued by DNA. That was really my discovery. Because it’s not just a portrait. It’s a portrait of the mix of himself and Marie-Thérèse. And the very first work in the show, we have these photographs with the double profile, and then the profile of Dora Maar. Because Dora Maar is also in the background. Because she’s the woman he’s gonna meet soon after the birth of Maya. That’s also going to change the portraits of Maya because he has another woman in mind, not just Marie-Thérèse — and Maya stays. Marie-Thérèse might have been slightly replaced by Dora Maar, but Maya is here. Nobody can replace Maya, his first daughter. The very first work is a print. It’s one of his great masterpieces called “Minotauromachy,” and Marie-Thérèse is pregnant. It’s dated 1935. And, so in a way, what I liked is that you see the embryon [the beginning] of Maya, which goes back to the DNA. Is there a particular piece that holds a sentimental value to you above the others?Well, probably that drawing where he’s attaching a little sculpture. [“Maya in her hair a cloth doll,” 1943.]Why is that so moving to you?Because it’s so creative. So creative. He’s making little dolls; he’s making a little decoration for the hair; it’s not even a decoration for the real hair, it’s a decoration for — you know, I love the way he’s mixing reality in his work. Everything is a blur.This interview has been edited for length.Click on the slideshow for more pictures.

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