May 2007, WM Issue #3: Room Full of Mirrors: Picasso, Braque, and Early Film in Cubism

Room Full of Mirrors: Picasso, Braque, and Early Film in Cubism
by Al Doyle

 What if everything you know about Cubism is wrong? What if every art historian, critic, dealer, collector and lover of Picasso missed an essential ingredient of the complex recipe that resulted in the most important dish served up in the last five hundred years? Such is the premise of Bernice Rose's cannily crafted thesis accompanying the exhibit at Pace Wildenstein: Picasso, Braque, and Early Film in Cubism.
 Coming at the end of the New York art season that has seen much in the way of homage to all things Picasso, this show is like a quiet riot exploding in the face of established pieties, attitudes and shop-worn sentiments about Cubist influences and correlatives. Yes, there is the geometry of the 4th dimension, the relativity of Einstein, the simultaneity of the modern metropolis and now this: the seminal importance of cinematic space/time secretly serving as the premier motif. That this fact was carefully concealed by the artist/shaman who preferred the perception that these images were conjured from thin air.
 Once said, the idea that Picasso and Braque invented an art that freezes cinematic imagery on the static surface of the canvas makes perfect sense: almost like a foregone conclusion. All the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. The somber tones that mimic the monochromatic early films, the faceting, the intimations of multiple perspectives and even the flickering light of the projector lamp are all echoed by Picasso and Braque in the seminal art works of 1907- 1914.
 But Ms. Rose goes further still. Radical as it may sound, Ms. Rose posits an incredible visual correspondence between the physical apparatus of the projector/cameras and the depicted objects in the paintings. Images of lenses, cameras and projectors are literally embedded and enmeshed into the very fabric of the Cubist portraiture and still life. Picasso, ever the trickster, has been playing hide-and-seek with us; hidden in plain view for nearly a hundred years are the very means and apparatus of his cinematic imagination.
 In support of this premise, the gallery is transformed into a curio shop filled with early projection equipment alongside several projected films. Placed as they are next to the canvases, prints, collages and drawings, one can't help but to see the visual correspondences that Ms. Rose speaks to on page 70 of the accompanying text:
"...Kahnweiler's head is composed of a cinematograph wearing a "mask". His nose is the crank handle of the camera/projector, aligned with one edge of the irregular 1910 camera box."
 The only thing missing from the exhibit are the sculptures, reliefs and constructions of guitars, glasses and bottles created in during the same period of intense invention and collaboration. The exhibit remains on view until June 23, 2007 at Pace Wildenstein, 2 57th St., NY, NY

Related Links:
What to see in NYC: A selective guide to the Arts, Museums, Galleries, New Media, Animation, Painting, Sculpture, Prints, Graphics, Architecture and Design.

Al Doyle



Al Doyle is an artist/critic living in Brooklyn.



view all articles from this author