Paris’ Picasso Museum will reopen its doors on October 25th, after a five-year renovation that has been marred by delays and controversy. Opened in 1985, at the Hotel Salé, a magnificent 17th century palace in La Marais, one of Paris’ most iconic pre-modern neighborhoods, the museum hosts the most complete collection of the work of one of the world’s most influential artists.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is without a doubt one of the most prolific artist of the 20th century and kept a comprehensive catalog of his creations. He also saved thousands of his works for his personal collection, which would eventually become the property of the French State and the core of the permanent collection of the Picasso Museum in Paris.
At the time of his death in 1973, Picasso’s personal collection included 70,000 items, which he stored in a Parisian vault. By 1979, his family made a huge donation of his works to the French State in lieu of inheritance taxes. As part of France’s national patrimony, the government needed a space to house the wonderful collection. In 1985, the Picasso Museum opened with 5,000 pieces and more than 200,000 archival documents.
It has become an essential meeting place for curators and scholars of the art of the great Spanish genius. One can almost feel the presence of the artist while walking through the impressive halls. Picasso’s passions, virtues and faults are also part of his legacy, an artist whose life was as tumultuous as his work was visceral and brilliant.
New director, Laurent Le Bon at the Picasso Museum.
Anne Baldassari, one of the world’s most renowned Picasso experts, started working at the museum 1992 and proved worthy of become its director. She is responsible for blockbuster exhibitions such as Matisse Picasso (2002) and Picasso and the Masters (2009). But her tenure has not been without controversy. She earned a reputation for being difficult to work with. British art historian and Picasso biographer John Richardson told The Guardian “she was loathed by Picasso scholars. She was no help whatsoever – she was a positive hindrance. You couldn’t see things in the library. She would not loan works to other museums.”
Baldassari was fired earlier this year by Aurélie Filippetti, France’s minister of culture and communications partly due to her mismanagement of the restorations, whose completion time and costs more than doubled during the five years the museum has been closed. The construction budget increased from 50 million to 75 million dollars. But Baldassari has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to the scholarly research of the oeuvre of Pablo Picasso, which commands intrinsic respect and recognition and continues to be involved with the institution. The newly appointed director of the Picasso Museum, Laurent Le Bon asked Baldassari to curate the opening exhibition.
The halls of the museum have been enlarged and updated. The new windows allow more light into the galleries, and the magnificent staircase with its classical caryatids looks more spectacular than ever, after the renovations. But the main attraction is not the state-of-the-arts palatial setting. Instead, pieces such as The Kiss (1925), Nude in a Red Armchair (1929), Bull’s Head (1942) and the bulk of Picasso’s surrealist work, take on a new life as the public is able to view and enjoy them once again in all their glory.
One never quite gets into Picasso’s head. It takes a lifetime to understand his genius. Controversial, misogynist, communist, master of the art of painting, the incomparable, passionate Pablo Picasso was one of the most complex artists of the last century. The pinnacle of modernism, his sexually charged, brutally challenging and sublime creations finally have a home in Paris, the city where he lived and worked. ■