Speaking Picasso's Language

Visual, literal: Picasso's Segment of Pear, Wine­glass, and Ace of Clubs

Visual, literal: Picasso's Segment of Pear, Wine­glass, and Ace of Clubs. Photos courtesy Nasher Museum of Art

Pablo Picasso's lifelong relationship with writers and the ways language affected his work is the focus of a newly opened exhibition at Duke's Nasher Museum of Art.

Picasso and the Allure of Language includes sixty works—in a variety of media—created by Picasso throughout his career. Selected pieces by fellow artist Georges Braque, along with photographs, letters, manuscripts, and book projects by a diverse group of artists and writers, are also on display. Together, these works illuminate Picasso's deep and multidimensional interest in writing and language and challenge the notion of what have been considered "highlights" of his lifetime of work.

The exhibition "reveals new insights about this famous, well-studied artist," says Kimerly Rorschach, the James H. and Mary D.B.T. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. "We can learn a lot from the intellectual and artistic exchanges between Picasso and some of the greatest thinkers of his day."

The Nasher show was organized by the Yale University Art Gallery, where it made its premiere in January, and was curated by Susan Greenberg Fisher, the Horace W. Goldsmith associate curator of modern and contemporary art at Yale, with support from the Nasher Museum.

Visual, literal: Spread from Reverdy's Le chant des morts (The Song of the Dead)

Visual, literal: Spread from Reverdy's Le chant des morts (The Song of the Dead)


Picasso moved from his native Spain to the bohemian Montmartre section of Paris in 1904. There, he befriended important French writers and poets, including Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1905, Picasso met Gertrude Stein, the expatriate American writer who, guided in art collecting by her brother Leo, became the artist's principal patron in Paris until World War I broke out. Works made by Picasso for the Steins are included in the exhibition.

Best known as a pioneer of Cubism, Picasso also had "a keen interest in rethinking painting and drawing as a form of writing," according to curator Fisher. Engagement with writing in his art, she says, stretches from "Cubist collages made in the years before World War I to his later print series of the 1950s and 1960s."

Some well-known early Cubist works such as Dice, Packet of Cigarettes, and Visiting-Card and Segment of Pear, Wineglass, and Ace of Clubs show how Picasso began to reinterpret representations of printed material. Later works, like his collaboration with poet Reverdy, Le chant des morts (The Song of the Dead), are also included.

The exhibition is complemented by "Africa and Picasso," a small arrangement inspired by Picasso's own collection of more than 100 African figures, masks, and musical instruments, which is drawn from the Nasher's permanent collection.

The museum also is hosting programming, including a free family-day event, a poetry night, panel discussions, a film series, and teacher workshops. The Carolina Ballet will present a newly choreographed work, "Picasso," inspired by the exhibition.

Duke is the exhibition's only venue outside New Haven. Picasso and the Allure of Language will be on view at the Nasher through January 3.

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