Between June 15 and September 1, 2019, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, presents “Picasso – Birth of a Genius,” the most significant exhibition of work by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) ever to take place in China. The exhibition, which offers a comprehensive overview of the first three decades of Picasso’s career, includes 103 works drawn entirely from the collection of the Musée national Picasso-Paris, which trace Picasso’s development from childhood to middle age. Curated by Emilia Philippot, Head of Collections, Musée national Picasso-Paris, the exhibition has been conceived and organized specifically for this presentation at UCCA and in China, and includes 34 paintings, 14 sculptures, and 55 works on paper. Taken together, this selection of works, predominantly realized between 1893 and 1921, tells the story of the creative formation and evolution of the most daring, original, and prolific talent in the history of modern art.
The three decades under consideration were a period of artistic discovery and ferment for the young Picasso, whose style underwent numerous changes: from the academic realism of his student days to his post-war return to classical style; from the alternately somber and carnivales que motifs of the Blue and Rose periods to the primitivist explorations which ultimately led to the multiple phases of Cubism. Rather than rigidly separating Picasso’s work into different thematic sections, the exhibition seeks to reaffirm the coexistence of seemingly contradictory languages in his creative process, and to highlight the lived realities behind them.
“Picasso – Birth of a Genius” is organized in six chapters: “The First Picasso,” which accounts for the artist’s artistic upbringing, when he produced works such as Man in a Cap (1895) and Study of a Torso, After a Plaster Cast (1893-1894); “Picasso Blue and Rose,” during which he advanced from imitating Post-Impressionist masters to develop a truly original style, resulting in works like The Jester (1905) and Two Brothers(1906); “Picasso the Exorcist,” which saw his revolutionary experiments with form and space, producing artworks like Self-portrait (1906) and preparing his masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1907); “Picasso the Cubist,” a period when he wrought an elaborate system of signs, producing works such as Man with a Mandolin (1911) and Man with Fireplace (1916); “Picasso the Chameleon,” which marked the artist’s turn towards classical revivalism, creating works such as The Lovers (1919) and Studies (1920), as well as designing the sets, costumes, and curtain for the Ballets Russes production of Le Tricorne (1919); and a final section which includes several notable paintings and sculptures done between 1927 and 1972, giving a sense of how Picasso’s creative idiom, developed during the period under consideration in the exhibition, informed his later practice.
The exhibition unfolds throughout UCCA’s 1800-square-meter Great Hall,with exhibition design by Studio Adrien Gardère (SAG). This design features a set of monumental beveled and chamfered boxes, pacing and differentiating the diverse themes brought together in the show. Through a game of openings and slots revealing unexpected perspectives and surprises, the exhibition design invites the audience on a rhythmic journey through Picasso’s evolution as an artist, and fosters an infinite conversation in which the works are perpetually reinvented by visitors’ movements. Large-scale prints of Picasso’s portraits and images of his studios underscore each box as a reminder of the artist’s life and times.
This exhibition grows out of a recognition of the importance of cultural and artistic exchange between France and China at the highest levels, and constitutes an important component of the 2019 Festival Croisements. As French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has highlighted to Premier Li Keqiang during their meeting on June 25, 2018, the exhibition represents a significant contribution to the bilateral cultural dialogue between China and France. It echoes President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron’s wish, pronounced during his state visit to China in January 2018, to see more exhibitions from major French museums come to China, and from Chinese museums to France. On March 25, 2019, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping met with Macron at the élysée, and expressed the need for increasing cooperation between the citizens and governments of France and China in the field of art and culture. Xi stressed the need to promote extensive bilateral exchange in the humanities, and to increase dialogue with regard to culture, tourism, language, and region, reaching out to younger audiences in particular, and designated 2021 as the year of Sino-French cultural tourism.
President Macron added, “Our cooperation in the cultural field is experiencing an unprecedented dynamism… Great projects are being undertaken, such as the biggest exhibition of Picasso’s works in China this year, and the cooperation between Versailles and the Forbidden City… We have decided that 2021 will be the year of cultural tourism between our two countries, and, I must say, all these initiatives, conceived in recent months and carried out together, are not a coincidence. They reflect a common state of mind, that of rediscovering the essence of our bond, and the bedrock on which our mutual understanding is built.”
For the Musée national Picasso-Paris, the exhibition marks the most substantive presentation of its collection—which includes 5,000 art works and more than 200,000 archival objects—in China to date, and the first since Laurent Le Bon assumed the directorship in 2014. “We are pleased with this new stage in the international cooperation policy led by the Musée national Picasso-Paris,” LeBon has noted.
UCCA Director and CEO Philip Tinari has said, “For UCCA, this exhibition marks the realization of a dream we have held since our opening in 2007, to present not only recent developments in contemporary art but to examine the underpinnings of the contemporary by showing modern masters. We believe that the story of Picasso is relevant to our audience in China, as individuals here continue to answer the challenges of creativity, originality, and innovation.”
Visitor and Ticketing Information
“Picasso – Birth of a Genius” is continuously on display from June 15 to September 1, 2019. Exhibition opening hours are Monday to Thursday, 10:00 – 19:00 with last entry at 18:30, and Friday to Sunday, 10:00 – 21:00, with last entry at 20:30. On June 15, 16, and 29, July 19 and 20, and August 24, opening hours will be 10:00 – 19:00, with last entry at 18:30.