May 8, 2009

Late Work

Late work by a great artist is often revelatory. It may not be the best work of the artist's life--though with Beethoven and Rembrandt we may feel that it is--but if the artist has lived long enough, the pressure of limited time may produce something that is at once a final flowering, a Shakespearean summing up, and a farewell. In the Picasso show at Gagosian's Chelsea gallery, one finds all of these things. The best painting in the show is a self-portrait, the face lavender paint slapped on with a knife and the mouth cut in to form a sort of idiotic grin below black, round eyes like marbles. He's holding his hand up to the base of his throat in a gesture that unmistakably asks, "Moi?" The colors blaze and harmonize with (for Picasso) unusual chromatic intensity.

There are forty or fifty paintings in this large, museum-like warehouse space. Picasso worked quickly on these pictures, seldom reworking, letting his brush hit once and moving on, to the next color or shape. Dazzling visual puns, in which a portrait of a woman simultaneously contains the artist's profile, or a woman has a cavalier's beard, succeed each other with endless, restless vitality. These are not all great paintings, taken one by one, but they show that Picasso was the most endlessly fertile and playfully inventive artist the twentieth century produced, right to the end.

Also on display are a large selection of prints. One is a huge proof sheet, made of tiny plates about two by four inches each, all printed together on a single piece of paper about sixty inches wide.

There's a great wealth of creative energy on display here.

The show is up through June 6. It's worth a trip.

I went on a Thursday afternoon during a heavy downpour. The gallery was full of people.

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