NEW YORK -- An unprecedented sampling of Pablo Picasso's revolutionary cubist works from his granddaughter Marina's vast collection is on display at Manhattan's new Jan Krugier Gallery.
From "Reclining Woman," the muscular nude oil of 1908, to the superb 1926 collage "Guitar," composed with maple leaf, silk stocking fragment and string, Picasso's herculean labors in defining modern art pop like gunfire along the walls. The exhibit contains about 65 paintings, drawings, prints, sketchbooks and collages, and everything but the sketchbooks is for sale.
Asked why the works -- at least a dozen are individually valued in the millions of dollars -- were not consigned to the auction block, gallery director Diane Upright said, "It's never been considered. Marina Picasso is not interested in the circus atmosphere of the auction houses. She's interested in works placed with museums or public-spirited collectors, rather than just being sold. It's our business to place the things well." Back in November 1982, 79 Picasso prints from Marina's collection fetched $650,000 at auction here.
Among the paintings on view there is a terrific leap into the future from the easily recognizable "Head of a Woman," begun in 1909, to the harder to decipher "Woman With a Guitar," from 1910. Painted against a brushy sea of gold strokes, the black-lined planes and half circles gradually build the image into a machinelike female form. Under scrutiny, the geometric configuration leans back in a chair, strumming Picasso's new cubist tune.
"It is a unique ensemble," said dealer Jan Krugier. "I made the choices ... it was my idea to push the cubist things." Krugier is the man behind the Picasso coup, the exclusive agent worldwide for disposing of the lion's share of Marina Picasso's inheritance, representing 20 percent of what Picasso left behind in 1973 at age 92. Coincidentally, Pace Gallery, Krugier's competitor across the street, represents three other Picasso heirs -- Paloma and Claude Picasso (the artist's illegitimate children) and Bernard Picasso (Marina's half brother).
Picasso, always a brilliant prankster, didn't leave a will. After years of legal haggling the French government wound up with 25 percent of the estate, some $78 million worth of art. The dation, a unique arrangement that allows French inheritance taxes to be paid with art, was the foundation of the spectacular Picasso Museum in Paris, which opened in 1985. The government made its choices from the trove first, with the guidance of Dominique Bozo, now head of the Picasso Museum. The family members then made their individual selections from color slides. Only Marina, daughter of Picasso's first and only legitimate offspring, Paulo, used a consultant in picking her share; the consultant was Krugier, whose gallery in Geneva, Switzerland, specializes in late 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces.
Marina's stake in the estate doubled when her brother, Pablito, committed suicide at age 21 after he was refused admission to his grandfather's funeral. Then in 1975, during delicate negotiations between the artist's widow Jacqueline and Paulo Picasso -- the 54-year-old son of Pablo and Russian ballerina Olga Khoklova -- Paulo died, further increasing Marina's share in the 45,000 uncatalogued works her grandfather had kept under lock and key in a number of storehouse-cha~teaux.
Marina Picasso, now in her midthirties, lives near Geneva with her two children and did not attend the New York opening because it conflicted with her children's school schedule.
When asked why the Picassos were for sale now, Krugier would only say, "There were a number of correspondences that made the timing perfect." But Gert Schiff, a noted art scholar who organized "Selections From Marina Picasso's Collection" at the Center for Fine Arts in Miami in 1985, said Marina's purpose is "to dispose of the works at a high speed to amass enough capital to found a model home for retarded children near Geneva. She doesn't much care for the art."
There is a marvelous "correspondence" between Marina's dream and a stunning head-and-shoulders drawing in one of the exhibited sketchbooks from 1907. The lined-leaf, paperbacked book, signed "Monsieur Picasso" in exaggerated schoolboy script on the front cover, is crammed with studies of contorted nudes that prefigure the masterpiece, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," the cornerstone of the Museum of Modern Art's Picasso collection. Tucked among these, however, is a sketch in a completely different style that seems to tell a more personal story.
During Picasso's early experiments with cubism, he lived with Fernande Olivier in the Bohemian section of Montmartre. According to the catalogue essay by Pierre Daix, Fernande pined for a child and sought one out at a nearby orphanage. This was 13-year-old Rosamonda, the pretty girl who is the subject of the 1907 sketch and a witness and participant in the "Demoiselles" breakthrough. The classical study, buried between pages of geometricized limbs and an acrobatic assembly line of bald female heads, quivers with emotion, as if the artist wanted to strike an autobiographical chord amid the experimental chaos.
Picasso was a great appropriator, snatching bits of Ce'zanne, Matisse and African tribal art to build his new language. He broke all the rules, in his studio as well as in his personal life. A 1917 portrait of "Olga," a stunning beauty, is poised at a crossroads between Picasso's cubism and his soon-to-emerge neoclassicism. It belongs to Marina, but hangs in a side viewing room at the Krugier, outside the strict parameters of the exhibit. It is no coincidence that Marina Picasso chose many works from the years her grandfather and grandmother lived together. The exhibit, in a strangely lyrical way, combines all sorts of love stories.