Anne Umland: What we’re looking at is a machine painting that Francis Picabia made when he was visiting New York City.
Have you ever thought about making a painting or a sculpture or a photo or a video of a machine? Where would you begin? What machine would you choose? Would you show its insides or its outsides or both?
Let’s look together at the sorts of things Picabia includes to make us think of machines: Those little wheels, flywheels, gears at the bottom of the picture are one thing. And I think for me, all those tubes interconnected at the top are another.
Narrator: Look at the very top of this painting—can you see where Picabia wrote the title? It means, in English: “Very Rare Picture on the Earth.”
Anne Umland: And I think that one of the things that Picabia wanted was for people to wonder what on earth he meant by that!
Narrator: Parts of the painting are made of pieces of wood. Picabia covered them in real gold and real silver—called gold and silver leaf.
Anne Umland: I think maybe that’s another reason why he titled his work Very Rare Picture on Earth, because he’s using these precious metals like gold and silver to make it.
Many centuries ago, way before Picabia was born, artists used gold leaf in the background of pictures of saints. Here, it’s almost as if Picabia is using all this gold leaf and precious metals to present us with this very new, modern sort of object for worship, and inviting you to dream up your very own rare machine.