Picasso and Truth
From Cubism to Guernica
T. J. Clark
Princeton University Press, New Haven, 2013
Was Picasso the artist of the twentieth century? In Picasso and Truth, T. J. Clark uses his inimitable skills as art historian and writer to answer this question and reshape our understanding of Picasso’s achievement. Supported by more than 200 images, Clark’s new approach to the central figure of modern art focuses on Picasso after the First World War: his galumphing nudes of the early 1920s, the incandescent Guitar and Mandolin on a Table from 1924, Three Dancers done a year later, the hair-raising Painter and Model from 1927, the monsters and voracious bathers that follow, and finally–summing up but also saying farewell to the age of Cubism–the great mural Guernica.
Based on Clark’s A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, delivered at the National Gallery of Art, Picasso and Truth argues that the way to take Picasso’s true measure as an artist is to leave behind biography–the stale stories of lovers and hangers-on and suntans at the beach that presently constitute the “Picasso literature”–and try to follow the steps of his pictorial argument. As always with Clark, specific works of art hold center stage. But finding words for them involves thinking constantly about modern culture in general. Here the book takes Nietzsche as guide.
Is Picasso the artist Nietzsche was hoping for–the one come to cure us of our commitment to Truth? Certainly, as the dark central years of the twentieth century encroached, Picasso began to lose confidence in Cubism’s comprehensiveness and optimism. Picasso and Truth charts this shift in vivid detail, making it possible for us to see Picasso turn away from eyesight, felt proximity, and the ground of shared experience–the warmth and safety that Clark calls “room-space”–to stake everything on a glittering, baffling, unbelievable here and now. And why? Because the most modernity can hope for from art, Picasso’s new paintings seem to say, is a picture of the strange damaged world we have made for ourselves. In all its beauty and monstrosity.