Friday Nights at the de Young feature special lectures related to current exhibitions at the de Young. This Friday, June 24, Public Programs presents Picasso, Our Contemporary by Dakin Hart in conjunction with Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris. Hart will discuss elements of Picasso's life and practice after World War II that suggest he may have become interested in what has come to be recognized as contemporary art practice, such as identity performance, the use of sculpture as a bridge between art and life and frank treatments of sex. Dakin Hart began his museum career as assistant to the director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and is currently working as an independent curator and writer in New York while finishing his Ph.D. at the Institute of Fine Arts.
Mr. Hart has graciously answered a few questions for us in preparation for this intriguing lecture!
Picasso worked in many different media throughout his career. Out of the many to choose from, do you have a favorite Picasso artwork and why?
I can't say that I have a favorite work, but I have long been drawn to his sculpture. If I had to pick one thing to point people to in San Francisco it would be The Orator at the Legion of Honor. First and foremost it's an original plaster assemblage–something he put together himself, which means that it's possible to draw connections between its physical features and his intent.
Like most of Picasso's masterpieces The Orator sits at the center of a web of references: to his own work, milestones in the history of art, both recent and ancient, contemporary events and his own biography, without being trapped or in any way limited by or to them. Its power to suggest and to compel, as with great oratory, is heightened by specific reference points, but it's still fundamentally mysterious: suggestive rather than discursive, emotional rather than logical. This is typical of Picasso at his best. It's also an example of what is likely Picasso's most enduring and unique talent: the ability to evoke humanity in almost perfectly inverse proportion to his departures from the human form.
[The Orator is on view at the Legion of Honor in Gallery 19.]
Picasso was a visionary of his time. Do you think he might have used computer technology in his art if he were working today?
I don't think there's any way to know what an amazing mind like Picasso's might have done in another age with other tools. He liked to say that his mother told him that if he'd been a general he would have been Napoleon, or the Pope if he'd been a priest, but that he ended up being Picasso. There's no question that cubism was a revolutionary representational technology. But it's important to remember that as soon as he reached it, Picasso purposefully and consciously stepped back from the precipice of abstraction. He was a humanist, not a technologist.
What is one of the most challenging aspects of Picasso's work that you have found in your research and interaction with his work?
These days art historians are trained to make logical arguments supported by direct physical evidence and built on the foundation of existing scholarship. The most rewarding and challenging thing about working with Picasso is his defiance of purely rational analysis. If somewhere he is quoted saying something definitive on a particular subject, you can be pretty sure he's been quoted somewhere else saying the exact opposite. And chances are, depending on the subject, that he contradicted himself on purpose. Picasso considered himself more of a civilization than an individual: he was more interested in being experienced like a people than understood as a person. That can be infuriating when you're trying to produce a dissertation, but it makes his work incredibly rewarding to return to again and again.
Join Dakin Hart this Friday, June 24 at 7:00 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium to learn more about Picasso's practice and its relationship to contemporary art!