In her rave review of "Pablo Picasso: Mosqueteros," the exhibition of late Picasso paintings at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, Roberta Smith writes, "Like the 1908 masterpiece Demoiselles d’Avignon, these works turn painting inside out. If they have not similarly changed the course of art history, give them time." To which I reply, "Have you ever heard of George Condo?"
Condo’s element of ethereal goofiness and mocking characterization comes straight from late Picasso, as does the work of many other manic paintaholics, from Jim Nutt to Nicole Eisenman. There has been much critical handwringing about the macho sinister side of Pablo, associated with "Mosqueteros." For example, take (please!) James Panero in The New Criterion: "It grew increasingly unappetizing to watch Picasso consume his cannibalistic meals. He was the child-Titan forever licking his chops and showing his plate cleaned of limbs and noses."
Panero quotes the show’s curator John Richardson that "Picasso was so frightened of death -- you could never mention his will to him." The artist’s daughter Paloma chimes in, "People were happy to be consumed by him. They thought it was a privilege." All this neurotic analysis confuses the artist with the man. The basic point about all of Picasso, a lesson underscored by "Mosqueteros," and a not insignificant one in light of our own era when artists spend thousands of euros to do turgid videos about Caligula or the rape of the Sabine women or, pace Gregory Crewdson, blow the bank on setups for angst-ridden snaps of twilight suburbia, is that Picasso is FUN.
Yes, the wily Basque boy is no Schopenhauer, but rather the avatar of Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" This was the Picasso that was popularized in film and photographs during the 1960s by David Douglas Duncan, an image which endeared the master to the world at large and which has slowly and thoroughly been undercut since his death in 1971, to the point of necrophilia by his publicity-hungry heirs and great scholars such as Richardson, all of whom claim a piece of the master.
Picasso spent a lifetime transcending his personal associations with the zeal of play that combined the boy building sandcastles and the matador in the bullring. He knew more joy from plunging his arms into the vat of the world then any llama could conjure on a mountain in Tibet, and it is artists, and artists alone, who have mimetically absorbed the physicality of his creation.
Picasso’s mythos and practice was to stand in the fields after the rain and quickly draw a beard on a luminous rainbow. The only things that can kill off his enduring presence are the grim curators, greedy opportunists and technological "innovators" determined to still the beating heart of life behind the greatest art.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).