Cubists are full of puns. Braquer, the French verb, means to point or to stare. Then again, the adjective braque translates as "madcap." Taking a long look at Georges Braque's works 100 years after his birth, art historians are finding him every bit as humorous and double-edged as the more publicly gregarious Picasso. Two shows in town survey the artist's inventiveness in both early and late works.
The second local exhibition of the season to honor the co-creator of Cubism opens this Sunday at the National Gallery's East Building. These 30 collages ought to be seen first, leading up to the artist's dazzling late paintings on view at the Phillips Collection.
The Gallery's "Braque" fills three small rooms with muted compositions on paper, cardboard or canvas. Most are dated 1912, when he invented the form, cutting and pasting paper to create "Fruit Dish and Glass," the first modern collage.
They are sculptural but almost bland compared to his vibrant paintings -- done from the 1940s through his death in 1963 -- exhibited across town. These works mark the start of a new vocabulary, depicting violins, pipes, bottles, guitars and cigarettes in new terms. Braque thought of it, then Picasso ran with the newsprint-cutouts technique.
A former house decorator, Braque experimented with imitation wood-graining on paper, decorative wallpaper and other textures. His goal in collages was to show that composition mattered as much as color, relief and clues like cigarette packaging in representing an object. Turning to newsclips, checkerboards and playing cards, he merged art and the "real world."
BRAQUE: THE PAPIERS COLLES -- At the National Gallery East, Sunday through January 16.