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Saturday Morning Art: The End of Picasso

April 18, 2009

The New York Times covers the Picasso exhibit of paintings and prints at the Gagosian Gallery and heaps high praise on the late work of the artist, previously derided for failing to live up to his world-changing earlier efforts.

One of the best shows to be seen in New York since the turn of the century, it proves that contrary to decades of received opinion, Picasso didn’t skitter irretrievably into an abyss of kitsch, incoherence or irrelevance after this or that high-water mark. For some, his decline began as early as 1914, when he and Braque went their separate ways after inventing Cubism. Others deferred until the arrival of the bourgeois Olga Khokhlova in 1917, or the pliant Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1927, or the end of World War II. But the mid-1950s have been generally accepted as the point of no return.

That stance has steadily eroded over the last 25 years, and should finally bite the dust here. The 50 paintings and 49 prints on view demonstrate that in the decade preceding his death in 1973 at 91, Picasso painted, as usual, for his life. But his life was drawing to a close, and pressure was mounting. He diverted it into paintings whose emotional rawness, physical immediacy and often wicked pictorial joyfulness were not quite like anything he had made before. They may not have changed the course of art, but give them time. First they deserve their due.

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