The fabulous subtitle of this MoMA exhibit is apparently a quote of the artist’s: “Our Heads are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction” – and indeed, walking through this show will have your thoughts changing direction frequently. The exhibit is a bit dizzying but, with proper context, quite entertaining. Curator Anne Umland has put together the first comprehensive Picabia show in over 50 years in the US, and the first time ever that some of his large-scale pieces have been in NYC; and she provides context for Picabia in terms of timing (especially both World Wars), personal life and colleagues.
The viewer careens mostly chronologically from the opening room of Picabia’s early stage of Impressionism to then a gallery of Cubist work, followed by a journey through his phases of Dadaism, machine paintings, a film, strings-in-frame, to even what could resemble street-velvet pieces – and more. Picabia was too prolific and varied to ever be categorized easily, and probably wanted it that way. He comes across as a witty raconteur, probably an infuriating peer, and a tongue-in-cheek philosopher who enjoyed poking fun at pretensions, as well as surprisingly current to today’s audience. Interestingly, after his own crazy journey through not only so many painting styles and media but also his travels through various countries, he returned home to die in the same house where he was born in Paris.
This exhibit closes shortly – March 19th.