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A problem called Pablo

Even though I have never formally studied art, I feel my life would be empty without it. I can spend hours in museums and my weekends in Brussels and abroad are frequently planned around exhibitions going on. I credit this to my dad, an artist himself, who always made it a point to take me with him to exhibitions and explain the different styles, artistic movements and media used to little wide-eyed me.

Even though I can now count quite a few favourite artists, I seem to always gravitate towards a certain Spanish guy by the name of Pablo. Picasso, of course. Truth be told, I’m finding my fascination with him and his works rather problematic of late.

Imagine this: A few weeks ago I took a Eurostar to London and one of the things I made it a point to do was to visit The EY Exhibition ‘Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy’. As I’m walking in, all I could hear in my head was Hannah Gadsby’s voice calling Picasso a misogynist. As I’m moving from one work to the other, most being sensuous depictions of Marie-Therese Walter, whom Picasso met and started a secret relationship with when she was just seventeen, Gadsby’s voice got louder. It turned into a scream I almost felt I couldn’t contain as I stopped in front of a portrait of his then wife Olga and their son Paulo, both painted in more bleak and muted colours and style, creating a stark contrast to the vivid sumptuous portraits of Marie-Therese. In the weeks running up to my London visit, I had been watching National Geographic’s Genius series where Antonio Banderas portrayed a Pablo that you simultaneously fall in love with and want to beat the living daylights out of. But we’re not violent that way (or any other for that matter!).

Is it the ‘bad boy appeal’ that we’ve been brought up to like and perhaps glorify even, that keeps us going back to men like Pablo? Has society wired us in a way that we can overlook a man’s misbehavior towards his multiple mistresses (and wife), his being a known predator and misogynist, because of the ‘disturbed genius’ reputation that accompanies his artworks? Have we been sub-consciously applying Roland Barthes’ ‘death of the author’ theory to artworks and separating the work as art creating itself irrespective of the artist and his intentions, thoughts and perversions? In this new era of feminism and the #MeToo movement, such questions I guess become more pertinent.

All that being said, I have tickets for the Musée d’Orsay ‘Picasso. Blue and Rose’. I’ll be honest, I don’t intend to give them up and my first upcoming Paris trip was planned very much around this exhibition. They’re my favourite periods from Picasso’s entire oeuvre, after all, artistically speaking. Am I a hypocrite? Perhaps. Am I playing into society’s acceptance of ‘bad boys’? That’s a possibility. Will I be attending the exhibition with a renewed perspective on the man? That’s quite a certainty. What I know is Hannah Gadsby’s voice will be joining me again.

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