MoMA recently launched its first digital-only publication, Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914, edited by Anne Umland and Blair Hartzell, with Scott Gerson. This immersive, interactive study features over 400 high-resolution images and the latest research on 15 groundbreaking Cubist works created by Picasso between 1912 and 1914, and is available as an iPad app through the App Store, or an interactive PDF through MoMAstore.org. Scholars Elizabeth Cowling, Jeremy Melius, and Jeffrey Weiss are contributing authors.
What stands out most to me while flipping (or swiping, I should say) through the e-book is that an incredible variety of images and in-depth texts are presented in an easy-to-navigate format that I’ve never experienced before. As a recent graduate student, I’m all too familiar with the joys and pains of art historical research. Of course, mining for new ideas is the force that keeps us going. I try to remember this when I’m on my way home in a crowded subway car, carrying on each shoulder threadbare tote bags bulging with various exhibition catalogues, catalogue raisonnés, and dense volumes of theoretical essays.
Luckily, an e-book like Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914 makes those tote bags obsolete! This new e-book compresses what feels like a limitless amount of information into a compact and elegantly designed interactive interface. Instead of having to flip through 350 thick pages, for example, to verify that the number “94” on the verso of Picasso’s Head of a Man with a Hat (1912) indicates that it was included in the auction of the Galerie Kahnweiler’s stock in May 1923 at the Hôtel Drouot, I am just a few taps away from finding the information that I need. What’s more, of course, are all the other features that a regular book simply does not have. The ability to zoom in on images and the impressive ease of pop-up footnotes—the bibliographic obsessive in me finds this reason alone to celebrate—effectively demonstrate how digital publishing can change the ways we study art and art history.
My journey through Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914 starts on the Table of Contents page where I can access a chapter on any one of the collages, constructions, drawings, or mixed-media paintings that sparks my interest simply by clicking on its thumbnail image. If I were looking for more information about Picasso’s cardboard Guitar (1912), for instance, a quick tap leads me to a full-screen image of this work. Just below it are options to view an X-ray image, as well as an interactive 360° view that I control by dragging my finger across the Guitar to spin it around. Each object chapter comprises an illustrated essay, conservation notes, provenance, exhibition history, and selected references. A tap anywhere on the page pulls up a navigation bar that allows me to jump to different parts of each chapter, and if I wish to return to the Table of Contents, the small icon at the bottom left corner takes me back to the illustrated list.
Thanks to the authors’ close collaboration with MoMA’s Department of Conservation, the publication provides intimate access to the material, physical, and technical particularities of the 15 featured objects by offering detailed conservation notes along with 360° views of constructed sculptures, X-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, raking light, and close-up detail images. In the cardboard Guitar chapter, a video of conservator Scott Gerson takes us behind the scenes to show how Picasso manipulated readily available materials, using craft techniques like gluing and sewing, to make a three-dimensional object, the likes of which had never been seen before.
The e-book also includes an extensive number of memorable archival images, documenting featured works hanging in Picasso’s own Paris studio or in the homes of early collectors, such as Gertrude Stein’s famous residence on the rue du Fleurus.
In a world where pictures and words are in constant interplay, Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914 truly embraces both languages. Artists, art lovers, and general fans of all things Picasso will enjoy the exceptional variety of images, while conservators and art historians will appreciate the rigorously achieved new research. No matter one’s background—or even geographical location—Picasso: The Making of Cubism 1912–1914 invites all to enjoy and learn more about the game-changing works of Pablo Picasso.