Tate Liverpool
United Kingdom

The Tate’s have a reputation of presenting the best-of-the-best exhibits in relation to modern art and their place in society. For this Picasso exhibition, they have outdone themselves once again, presenting even more exclusive works that Picasso produced around a common theme: war. A common theme with not-so conventional artworks; do not expect to see the famous Guernica painting here but rather its sister The Charnel House painted during the Cold War and based on a documentary of a Republican Spanish family killed in their kitchen.

Around one-hundred-and-fifty artworks by the artist, chronicling his in-depth look at his political activism and campaign for peace across the world are well documented which includes some of the re-imagined works of previous masters as seen at the National Gallery’s Picasso: Challenging The Past exhibit (25 February – 7 June 2009).

Spanning the Cold War era, the exhibit provides a timely look at how the artist transcended the ideological and aesthetic oppositions of East and West, his stance on the Spanish Civil War and their depiction as his great loves. Be prepared to see work from his Cubist period, as well as his figurative, still-life and classical periods including The Rape of the Sabines series and the Mothers and Musketeers paintings. Although he was questioned about his political allegiance, (being a member of the French Communist Party) and his position on warfare and peace, Picasso was dedicated to the development of his art and its place in society. Some of the paintings he produced during this period, when the Korean War was also escalating, were interpreted as history paintings depicting metaphors and allegories to the violence and aggression. In the mist of all the activity, Picasso’s campaign to peace was proving successful once he gave audiences a universal, biblical symbol: The Dove Of Peace.

Even Picasso’s still-lives which are majestic and peaceful in their meditations on war are interpreted as part of the war vs. peace dilemma with Picasso’s work of the time. The significance of the skulls; human and animal; relate to various symbols such as human skulls represent death from age, war, famine and pestilence whilst a goat is a scapegoat and the owl a symbol of death and finally the cockerel the symbol of the free French. But these are few and temporary compared to Picasso’s later prints demonstrating his look into creating artistic political symbols (scarves, posters, banners etc) in promoting peace and universal relations. And this meant incorporating a range of cultural influences such as Dutch artists, Spanish artists (Diego Velázquez), French artists (Édouard Manet), African (Primitivism) and more to achieve his unique style of modern art.

This exhibition reveals fascinating new insight into the artist’s life as a tireless political activist and campaigner, challenging the widely held view of Picasso as creative genius, playboy and compulsive extrovert. The skull pieces here could very well have been an influence on Damien Hirst’s recent work, particularly Still Life with Skull, Leeks and Pitcher, March 14, 1945 (1945) and Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle (1952). One hopes that there will be plenty more Picasso exhibits to reveal new sides to his personality.