A life’s loves captured on canvas

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A life’s loves captured on canvas

Lights reflect off the protective glass covering the print, so you have to lean close to see it clearly. When you do, you see an explicit bedroom scene, and so, too, does the Pope, peeking in from behind the curtains. The couple is merely an outline sketch while the Pope’s face and papal crown are rendered in detail.
“Raphael and La Fornarina” is one of a series of prints by Pablo Picasso on display at Ho-Am Art Gallery in downtown Seoul. The exhibition, “Picasso Prints: His Art, His Love,” opens today and runs to Sept. 14.
The selection of 205 prints is culled from two collections, “The Vollard Suite” and the “347 Suite,” both owned by the Bancaja Foundation in Spain. The new exhibition, part of the festivities for “The Year of Spain in Korea” organized by the Spanish Embassy, highlights the importance that love played in Picasso’s art and life. The images are often touching or humorous.
“The Vollard Suite,” named after Ambroise Vollard, Picasso’s art dealer in Paris, is a collection of 100 black-and-white etchings dating from 1930 to 1937. Several of these sensual prints are based on themes, like the “Sculptor’s Studio” and the “Minotaur.” Central to these images is the love affair that Picasso had with Marie-Therese Walter, his model, muse and mistress.
Picasso continued to depict erotic images throughout his life. His second wife, Jacqueline, was the subject of many of the prints in the “347 Suite,” a collection finished in 1968, when Picasso was working in Mougins, France.
Picasso explored numerous art media, including sculpture, ceramics, painting and prints. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he and fellow artists Georges Braques and Juan Gris gave birth to Cubism before World War I. Later works like “Guernica,” which used geometric forms to depict the horrors of war, captured the world’s imagination.
While the images in “Picasso Prints: His Art, His Love” may be sensual, the presentation is sedate. The prints are hung in10 rooms, each with a theme. Among them: “Portrait,” “Sculptor’s Studio,” “Painter and Model,” “Embrace or Violence,” “Nude” and “La Celestina.”
Despite recurring sexual images, the only room that is the slightest bit shocking is “Raphael and La Fornarina,” and that’s only because of the room’s color, a pink fleshy color that creates a luscious aura.
In addition to the prints, the exhibition features photographs of Picasso, his family and his mistresses.
The show spans the artist’s career, but is less of a retrospective than a homage to his life. Picasso once said that art and sexuality are the same thing, and nowhere is this more evident.
Viewers see human desire drawn with whimsy. In “Surprised Two Bathers,” two naked women in a bath are interrupted by the sudden appearance of a man. But Picasso only includes the partial face of the voyeur.
Some of the prints from “Circus” include Picasso, or his alter ego, in the background. They are usually set on the side, looking in. In “Circus,” that alter ego is a harlequin, a clown who makes others laugh. But instead of humor, there is a sense of isolation, since the harlequin is socially alienated.
Other images depict a sense of longing. Some prints from the “Minotaur” series have a regal sadness. The bull-headed monster is shown lying with a woman who resembles Marie-Therese. The expressions on both faces ― the minotaur, or sometimes a sartyr ― and the woman, are a contrast in desire, sadness, peace and resignation.
“It’s touching and almost sad,” says Lee Hae-soo, the show’s curator. She notes that “The Vollard Suite” was produced while Picasso was in his prime. His first wife, Olga Koklova, refused to give him a divorce, so Picasso embarked on a series of affairs. Surrounded by women, friends and fame, he produced sensual images reflecting his life.
Yet while some of the earlier prints depict a young, engaged young man, the “347” images are like a journal entry as Picasso’s life was ending, taken from the outside looking in. “The images may be strong,” Ms. Lee says, “but they seem like memories.” Picasso was surrounded by friends. But in the end, he once said, “I have had no true friends, only lovers.”

by Joe Yong-hee

English-language tours are available at 3 p.m. Saturdays. Kim Young-na, a professor of art history at Seoul National University, will be giving a lecture on Picasso’s work at 2 p.m. today at the Samsung building. For more information, call (02) 750-7824.
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