IS PICASSO NECESSARY?
I have to admit that I shocked the veteran Art in American David Ebony the other night at the Museum of Modern Art opening for "Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914" by asking him this question. David, not for the first time, looked at me avuncularly, and disagreed. I tried to rescue myself by pointing out that Ebony and I were just about the only two critics to unreservedly praise Gabriel Orozco's retro at MoMA last year, and that, if David and I were to think about it, Orozco, both formally and conceptually, comes out of Picasso, and specifically, from Picasso's guitars, the humble objects transformed into multiple amusements.
Of late, and five years after the passing of Picasso champion William Rubin, MoMA has shelved its Duchampian mission and revived the heartbeat that is Picasso. The whole Ann Temkin Ab-Ex survey is redolent with one narrative: that every New York artist of the postwar era was looking at Pablo and Pablo alone. Gorky seemed to be looking at every Picasso period simultaneously, Pollock's macho mythos derived from Pablo, and even Barnett Newman can be said to have stolen his lines and not much else from Pablo.
The guitar show is full of lines, empty white spaces, absent punctuations, pasted newspapers, adding up to the kind of perfect order which Newman fetishized. I started to write down the pieces that I liked from the show: Glass, Guitar and Bottle (1913), Student with Pipe (1914), Man with a Hat and a Violin (1912) and then gave up. I liked them all. But, that is the problem: it is comparable to picking out your favorite wave in the ocean.
Unlike Matisse, the dour godhead of painting, Picasso never really lets you inside of anything. He is like the man in the raincoat selling watches from its inside lining (and, come to think about it, Christian Marclay, with his obsessive arranging and collecting, is also Picassoid).
Enough! Find me some art with no Picasso influences whatsoever (good luck with that!). Necessariness is not only obsessive, it's oppressive, and Picasso remains the gorilla, the elephant and the bull in the MoMA room.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).