The artists who first glimpsed Picasso’s cardboard Guitar around 1912 marveled—and sometimes scoffed—at its fragility and seeming impermanence, but almost 100 years later its continued survival, while miraculous, is not its only notable quality. What do artists, in 2011, standing in front of the cardboard Guitar and its sheet-metal counterpart have to say? With this question in mind, curator Anne Umland and I asked a diverse group to visit Picasso: Guitars 1912–1914 and share their impressions.
We invited artists of all nationalities and ages, anticipating that certain practicalities (the distance between their home and 53rd Street, for example) would shape the final pool of contributors. In his response, George Condo links Picasso’s decision “to attack the guitar” to his “Andalusian roots,” while Lawrence Weiner laments the figurative subject matter as something of a distraction, describing it as a “pity that he used the guitar as the stepping-off point” rather than a dot or a square. Looking at Picasso’s Guitars, Jessica Stockholder has “the feeling that they were utilitarian for him, that they served to let him make drawings,” an observation reiterated by Condo, who suggests that perhaps Picasso constructed them “in order to see where the shadows fall.” Given the subtle yet significant factors of not just shadow, but also scale and texture at play in the Guitars, it is essential to us that the artists’ reactions be captured directly in front of the works, and not be based on memories or responses to reproductions.
The set-up for our audio recordings is simple—a quiet morning stroll around the exhibition with each person, microphone in hand—and the overall tone is informal, personal, and off the cuff. In editing the audio for our website, we try to maintain the unique qualities of each contribution: the phrasing, the pace, the occasional chuckle. For me, each artist’s insights draw out certain aspects of Picasso’s work—and in some cases, their own. We have been adding these new segments periodically to the Commentary section of our site, along with those gathered from visiting scholars, and we have more to add in the coming weeks. So please do check out the website again soon. And be sure to visit the exhibition before it closes on June 6!