“Leave it to the Whitney Museum to present an exhibition, “Picasso and American Art,” which dryly presents Pablo as a conservative influence on the praxis of artists.
The show examines the influence of Picasso’s work during his lifetime on nine American artists. The effect is to watch Pablo wrestle, strangle and put a hammerlock on the work of these artists, as they struggle under the weight and mass of his output, rather than releasing artists such as Pollock and de Kooning into free-form flight.
Such is the power of hindsight in looking at art. We simple spectators are granted godlike vision in judging the visual and creative struggles of our best-known artists under the beastly Picassodon. It is painful to see small early de Koonings which mimic Picasso’s In the Studio or perversely fascinating to watch Arshile Gorky produce Cubist paintings which are better than Picassos!…
Weirdly enough, Picasso, through the template of this exhibition, comes across as a reactionary influence on some great artists. You will never look at the work of Stuart Davis with quite the same joy again. Such are the unintended consequences of an intriguing show.” [Charlie Finch on Picasso and American Art]
In the thirties, the obscure painters who would one day transform American art liked to spend the night in shabby New York cafeterias discussing art over nickel cups of coffee. The subject was painting, all painting. They talked about the painters of the past, Uccello, Piero, Michelangelo; about the pioneering modernists, especially Cézanne; about their great near contemporaries, Miró, Matisse, Mondrian. But the artist they talked about the most—the one who seemed to drink their coffee before they did—was Picasso. Not because he was the biggest or best: Others were arguably as important. But the others kept to their games, working within boundaries. They did not possess modernity itself. They did not, like the omnivorous Spaniard, seem to fall upon and ravish every corner of the modern world. They were inspiring uncles, not a devouring father. [Mark Stevens on Picasso and American Art]
“In Straw Hat with Blue Leaf, Picasso has collapsed a woman’s head and torso into a rather grotesque shape; the left eye caps a breast-like protuberance, the right eye is located on the other side of another breast-like shape, and the toothless mouth can be read as the woman’s vagina. There is something monstrous and comic about Picasso’s extreme distortions. The woman’s misshapen head/ body is connected to a vase-like shape, which rests on a platform, suggesting that Picasso is depicting a sculpture of a woman resting on a pedestal. She is an immobile body that is also a head or bust.
Given Johns’ long interest in both the figure/ ground relationship and the mind/body problem, as well as his two Painted Bronze and use of a Rubin’s figure in Cups 2 Picasso, and it is easy to begin speculating about the many reasons why this Picasso painting would have appealed to him. By incorporating Grunewald’s hopelessly distressed figure and Picasso’s disturbing transformation into The Bath and Untitled, Johns underscores a close morphological resemblance that becomes for this viewer a site of speculation. With its prominent nose, the afflicted figure’s profile resembles that of Picasso’s distorted woman. One can also see a visual echo connecting the woman’s large forehead and violet hat with that of the figure’s forehead and cowl. What is one to make of this morphological resemblance? Is it just an echo that Johns was keen enough to notice? If the echo enabled Johns to connect a diseased figure (a body where the affliction begins internally) to a distorted figure (a body that has been distorted externally), what are we to make of his joining of the two? Once we notice these close visual parallels we must recognize that the artist’s placement of each “thing” conveys a feeling of urgent necessity, and that for any of these sights (meanings) to become possible everything must be exactly where it is. Johns’ attention placement extends to the ground; it is never to be taken for granted.” [John Yau Jasper Johns’ Preoccupation (Part 2)]
In 1957 Picasso did fifty-eight paintings related to “Las Meninas” by Velazquez. Picasso did this because he believed that he belonged in the company of one of the major art historical figures of all time. Forty-four years later I have made a new series of paintings based on several of Picasso’s paintings because I’m determined to be in his company.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a large scale painting [8.5′ x 25′] titled “War and Peace” utilizing imagery from four of Picasso’s epic paintings: “Guernica”; “La Guerre”; “La Paix”; and “La Joie de Vivre” as a structure for the work which is filled with all of the animal imagery Landers could find in Picasso’s paintings, sculptures, and sketches. Landers piles the images on top of each other to create a web of tangled shapes in bright colors which are reminiscent of Landers’ own stripe paintings, Picabia paintings, caricature paintings, as well as his use of the color-filling technique he uses in Adobe Photoshop for his magazine work.
In two other large-scale paintings titled “Sean” and “Genius” Landers restructures motifs from “Femme au bouquet”, a painting of a woman with a vase of flowers and “Femme au buffet”, a painting depicting a woman sitting at a desk, to spell out the words “Sean” and “Genius”, respectively. Landers’ intentions range from humor, audacity, and ego as a means to create structure.
One of the things that is so astounding about these paintings by Landers is that no matter how well you think you know Picasso, it is difficult to distinguish what might be directly taken from Picasso and what is purely Landers. [Press Release for Sean Landers Show at Andrea Rosen Gallery 2001]