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The Picasso Erotique show has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors worldwide. At left are the details of the show and the critical reaction, while below is an essay about the show itself, courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which hosted the show in 2001.

The selection of more than 350 works - many rarely, if ever, exhibited publicly before due to reasons of censorship - spans the artist's entire career and includes paintings, prints and drawings, sculpture and ceramics. Together, these reveal the profound, persistent and remarkably varied role that erotic imagery, ideas and experiences played in Picasso's work - from the bordello scenes of his youth in Barcelona to the epochal Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (sketches for which are included in the exhibition) and the nudes he produced at the age of ninety. As Picasso himself once stated, when asked about his views on art and sexuality, "They're the same thing."

Garnered from more than forty public and private collections worldwide, the exhibition features erotic works representative of virtually all the phases and styles of Picasso's career. Drawn from personal experience, imagination, mythology and earlier art, these images - by turns humorous and melancholic, enraptured and enraged - explore an almost encyclopedic range of sexual impulses, practices and human desire.

"Given the enormity of Picasso's oeuvre and influence, it is remarkable that up to now there has been no full-scale, major museum exhibition devoted to the central importance of erotic subject matter in his art," stated Museum Director Guy Cogeval. "Fascinating and often stunningly beautiful in and of themselves, these works will provide a long-overdue contribution to our understanding of the greatest artist of the twentieth century - and, indeed, of the nature of the artistic process and of creativity itself. It is most appropriate that this historic exhibition should take place at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which in the past has hosted such important displays of Picasso's work as Picasso and Man (1964) and Pablo Picasso: Meeting in Montreal, organized in collaboration with Jacqueline Picasso, the artist's last wife."

The Exhibition
As Picasso's numerous biographers - and the artist himself - have confirmed, sex and the women in his life had an enormous influence on his work. Indeed, the painter's rapid and often dramatic changes of style are frequently attributed to the presence of a new love interest, the waning of an old one, or both. While the autobiographical character of Picasso's erotic art is undeniable, such subjects also served as a means of exploring - and challenging - the very nature of art and its role in society.

Organized chronologically and thematically, the exhibition is divided into three successive phases of Picasso's career: "The Early Years", "Between the Wars" and "Maturity", each of which is subdivided into particular motifs or projects that figured prominently in his erotic oeuvre. At various points in the exhibition, there are also viewing areas for film excerpts related to Picasso's erotic imagery.

The Early Years: The Brothels of Barcelona
Picasso erotique opens, appropriately enough, with an installation evoking a fin-de-siecle brothel - the setting both for many of the painter's earliest sexual exploits and for his first large body of erotic drawings. An adjacent gallery displays a number of these works, most of them depicting the prostitutes and patrons of Barcelona's notorious barrio chino, or red-light district, which the young Picasso and his fellow artist friends frequented during the late 1890s and early 1900s. Drawn in a linear, almost caricaturist style reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec, many of these are graphic and often grotesquely humorous depictions of various sex acts, clearly designed to amuse and titillate. The Mackerel (1902-1903), for example, shows a nude woman with a long-tongued fish between her legs. There are also poetic and quite lyrical scenes of lovemaking from this period, such as Embrace (1901) and Two Figures and a Cat (1902-1903), as well as the disturbing image of a nude woman in bed being strangled by a man.

Produced at a time when Picasso was being encouraged to concentrate on historical and religious subjects (one of his first public successes, produced at age sixteen, was a solemn allegory entitled Science and Charity), these brothel sketches may have then seemed incidental to his developing career. However, many of the images first treated in these works - the embrace, the kiss, the artist gazing at his slumbering lover, violation, and death - would eventually become central themes in Picasso's oeuvre, reprised again and again until the end of his life.

This section also includes one of the precocious artist's earliest drawings of any kind, a sketch of a donkey mounting a she-ass, jotted in the margins of a school notebook when Picasso was about twelve.

The Early Years: Paris and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
The following galleries document the importance of erotic subjects during the crucial period from 1904, when Picasso moved to Paris, to the completion, in the spring of 1907, of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a depiction of five prostitutes that is regarded as one of the most important paintings in the history of modern art.

La Toilette, a major painting of 1906, shows a nude woman standing before a mirror and arranging her hair. The classical pose, sculptural form and overall dignity and restraint of the work reflect Picasso's new fascination with Greco-Roman art - and, perhaps, with his new mistress, Fernande Olivier. Often regarded as Picasso's first "true love", this statuesque and elegant Frenchwoman was the model for numerous works, erotic and otherwise, of the early 1900s. In The Harem, a more overtly erotic painting of 1906, Fernande appears in a variety of graceful, classically inspired nude poses, while a powerfully built nude man, seated languorously in the foreground, looks on. In retrospect, the work can be seen as an early step towards Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

The exhibition features a number of important studies for this revolutionary masterpiece. Among them is a compositional drawing for Les Demoiselles of March-April 1907, which differs from the final version in the inclusion of two men, one entering a door, the other seated amid the group of nude women. The presence of these men, both fully clothed, confirms that the subject of this painting, for all its violent distortions of form and space, is a group of prostitutes in a brothel greeting prospective customers.

Between the Wars
The exhibition then proceeds to show the myriad and increasingly sophisticated forms that Picasso's erotic oeuvre took during the decades leading up to World War II.

A number of erotic works dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s reflect his interest in Surrealism, which advocated the reconstruction of nature according to one's imaginative fantasies. For Picasso, these fantasies were often of a sexual nature - "Why not the sex organs in place of the eyes, and the eyes between the legs?" he once wondered - and the result is a series of hybrid and often playfully erotic creatures. In Figures by the Seashore (1931), for example, some protuberances and orifices are anatomically recognizable, some are not; but collectively the entwining forms are an eloquent expression of sexual union. In addition to drawings and paintings, the exhibition also includes a number of sculptures dating from the artist's Surrealist phase, including The Couple (1930), Head of a Woman (1931) and Bather (1931).

The next section of the exhibition is devoted to the important group of erotic works Picasso produced at Boisgeloup, the house he bought in 1930 as a studio and trysting place for his new love, Marie-Therese Walter. Some twenty-nine years his junior, she provided the artist - now almost fifty and in the last stages of his unhappy marriage to the Russian ballerina Olga Kokhlova ("the castrator") - with a new sexual and artistic lease on life.

In such paintings as Siesta (1932) and Recumbent Nude (1932) Marie-Therese's sleeping form is painted in voluptuous sweeping curves and flat areas of gay colors. In the somewhat later Nude in a Garden (1934) - described as one of the ultimate artistic expressions of sexual joy - her body is abstracted and rearranged according to his desire, becoming a series of delicately painted pink breasts and orifices.

This section also includes selections from Picasso's series of illustrations to Ovid's Metamorphoses (begun in 1930 at Boisgeloup) and other mythologically inspired scenes of pursuit, seduction and rape. His personal mythologizing of himself as the Minotaur, a lascivious half-human, bison-headed monster, figures prominently in a number of these works, such as Dora and the Minotaur. Dated September 1936, a few months after the beginning of his relationship with the photographer Dora Maar, it shows the shaggy beast preparing to bury his muzzle in his nude victim's pudenda.

The erotic works produced during the last decades of Picasso's life - a time when the artist enjoyed a celebrity unmatched in the annals of modern art - often reflect an increasing awareness of his own mortality and the inevitable waning of his sexual powers. Many of these are self-mocking and broadly humorous, such as collages in which a drawn image of a knock-kneed old man with glasses and a beret ogles and fondles photographs of pinup girls cut from magazines (1957). (Indeed, the tabloid press had made much of his liaison with the young painter Francoise Gilot, begun when he sixty-two and she was twenty-one). Similarly humorous in tone, but very different in source, are the group of ceramics (1962) with crudely painted images of aging "excited" satyrs in pursuit of fleeing nymphs, clearly intended as caricatures of erotic scenes on Greek vase painting.

The exhibition also features a number of works from one of the artist's most famous and extensive projects of erotic art, Suite 347 (1968), a series of risque prints dealing with the imagined sex lives of great artists of the past. A group of approximately twenty-five etchings depict the Renaissance master Raphael cavorting with his mistress "La Fornarina", often with the decrepit Pope Julius II as a goggle-eyed voyeur. In a similar vein is the selection of prints from Picasso's 1971 series - again, imaginary - of Degas visiting a Paris brothel.

In late paintings such as The Kiss (1969) and The Embrace (1971), a gift to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from Jacqueline Picasso, Picasso reprises themes and images that had informed the erotic art of earlier years. Now, however, the contours are often jagged and, in the oils, the paint is thick and applied with a new expressive urgency. The exhibition concludes with one of Picasso's last drawings, an image of a nude woman dated 1972, the year before his death at the age of ninety-one. A work of enormous pathos and power, it depicts a grotesquely aged woman, with sagging breasts and elephantine legs, slumped against the wall. She gazes at us with one wide, staring eye, while below, like a second eye, are the slashing lines of her genitals.

Exhibition Tour
Picasso erotique opened on February 29, 2001, at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, where it was shown until May 20, 2001. Following its Montreal showing - the only one in North America - the exhibition was presented at the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, from October 25, 2001, to January 25, 2002.

Exhibition Catalogue
Picasso erotique is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with original essays by an international team of leading Picasso scholars, including Jean-Jacques Lebel; Marilyn McCully, independent curator; Maria Teresa Ocana, director of the Museu Picasso; Robert Rosenblum, curator of twentieth-century art at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; Jean Clair; Brigitte Baer, author of the catalogue raisonne of Picasso's prints; and writers Pascal Quignard and Annie Le Brun, among others. It is available for purchase online here

Organization and Sponsorship
Picasso erotique is organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musee national Picasso and the Reunion des musees nationaux in co-production with the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, and the Museu Picasso, Barcelona. The curators of the exhibition are Gerard Regnier, director, Musee national Picasso, Paris; Guy Cogeval, Director, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; and Maria Teresa Ocana, director, Museu Picasso, Barcelona. French author and artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, guest curator of the Montreal exhibition, worked in collaboration with Dominique Dupuis-Labbe of the Musee national Picasso, Paris, and Nathalie Bondil-Poupard, Chief Curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (both deputy curators for this exhibition).
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