April 8, 2023, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death. Numerous exhibitions in Europe and the United States are celebrating this jubilee by introducing Picasso’s work to today’s audiences under the banner of The Picasso 1973–2023 Celebration. The holdings of the Museum Ludwig include the third-largest collection of Picassos in the world, and it is participating in the anniversary year with a presentation from the Graphic Collections: Suite 156, a late work by the artist, consisting of 155 etchings from between 1968 and 1972.
The period in which the cycle was created coincided with the sociocultural phenomenon of human rights movements worldwide, which in Picasso’s adopted country, France, culminated in the events of May 1968 in Paris. In his last cycle of prints, Picasso explores personal memories, love, life, and mortality, the history of Western art and culture, and the relationship between artists, models, and viewers. Their unifying element is Eros, the Greek god of erotic desire who reveals the libido and passion of all subjects. When the series was presented in Paris for the first time in early 1973, the reactions were mixed. Although Picasso’s technical mastery was recognized, the explicit depiction of sexual practices was controversial. This conflict is the starting point of the presentation, which focuses on specific aspects of collective work in the printing process such as Picasso’s close collaboration with Belgian printer Aldo Crommelynk. At the same time, the suite reflects a period of social change and cultural upheaval in which the women’s movement, the discourse on body image, body politics, visibility, and representation were also expressed in art history.
During the same period that Suite 156 was created, the magazine Le Torchon brule was founded by activists and artists from the Mouvement de libération des femmes (MLF) at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. A selection of illustrations, works on paper, and texts from the magazine, which was issued “menstrually,” substantiates the activity of feminist artist collectives in this era.
The presentation of the series of etchings is complemented by a new piece by contemporary Afghan artist Kubra Khademi (b. 1989 in Ghor, Afghanistan). Her art investigates social normative expectations of female bodies in a political yet humorous way. She consciously uses the body as a provocative artistic means for achieving gender equality. For example, in Armor, a 2015 performance, she walked through the streets of Kabul wearing a suit of armor that emulated the forms of the female body. As a result, the artist had to leave the country and has lived in exile in Paris ever since. Her new three-part work consists of large-format gouache drawings showing donkeys in various poses, some of them erotic, inspired by Persian miniatures and Mughal painting. The drawings visualize everyday oral culture in Afghanistan by imitating the way that women talk among themselves about sexual desire and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of women.
This reversal from the male to the female gaze adds the perspective of a non-European artist, expanding the topic of sexual desire and offering an opportunity to reflect on Picasso’s Suite 156 in context of current debates about art and gender.
Curator: Eboa Itondo