Breaking the mould with cubes
“The fact that for a long time cubism has not been understood and that even today there are people who cannot see anything in it means nothing,” said Pablo Picasso.
“I do not read English, an English book is a blank book to me. This does not mean that the English language does not exist. Why should I blame anyone but myself if I cannot understand what I know nothing about?”
A great defence of cubism if ever there was one, the Spanish artist touched upon an important point, namely that people are quick to form opinions about things they simply cannot comprehend.
These often quick, whimsical and parochial assessments are often a result of what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls systematic errors of thought (otherwise known as unsubstantiated biases).
Questioning what we believe and why we believe it is something that doesn’t register. We accept our stance on certain things and that’s it, end of story, no need for enlightenment. It hurts to be wrong.
Picasso knew all too well that he, along with Georges Braque, had found something quite remarkable and revolutionary in what would come to be known as cubism. They didn’t apologise for their indifference to convention because they believed that the diktats of the old are were not absolutes. More can be achieved if you break the rules.
To most at the time, this two-dimensional approach to art was exceptionally peculiar. It seemed, on the face of it, to make no sense, and, as we’ve already established, anything that presents itself as being elusive or eccentric (against the so-called norm of the day) is quickly shot down. Intuitive thinking likes to take shortcuts that reassure us all is okay with our view of the world.
Cubism triumphed and the world of art was transformed forever (despite, it has to be said, ignorance keeping its reach in partial check). It was an inspiring movement, as a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows, and the perfect catalyst for modernist leanings in art. The twentieth century was a landmark epoch.
Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection is pitched as ‘the most important exhibition of the essential cubists in more than 30 years’. Along with Picasso and Braques, both Juan Gris and Fernand Leger are considered to have been key figures in the movement.
This unique collection, which has been put together by its namesake over the last 40 years, delivers a fantastic overview of these four cubist icons. The vision and effort of the billionaire American businessman, chairman emeritus of the cosmetics company Estee Lauder, is commendable because it delivers something rather special.
Half of the collection is made up of works executed by Picasso and Braque between 1909 and 1914, a period that was defined by intense collaboration. Picasso would later remember that they would present their latest works to one another, both happy for the other to offer criticism. A painting would only be finished until “both of us felt it was”, he said.
Some of the works included in the show include Picasso’s The Oil Mill (1909) and Still Life with Fan: L’Indépendant (1911); Braque’s Fruit Dish and Glass (1912) and Violin: Mozart Kubelick (1912); Gris’ Man at the Café (1914); and Leger’s Composition (The Typographer) (1918-19), which is one the largest cubist works ever made.
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art from New York to your chosen destination anywhere in the world.