Pablo Picasso: The Communist Years

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Overview

The fact that Picasso joined the French Communist Party in 1944 and remained a loyal member to the end of his long life presents puzzling contradictions. How can the image of him as a protean genius be reconciled with his membership in a repressive political organization that maintained an authoritarian hold on its artistic community and all but obliterated the freedom of the creative mind? How could the creator of Guernica, lauded at that time as the champion of civilian victims of totalitarian aggression, support the policies of the Soviet Union? This stimulating book is the first comprehensive examination of Picasso's political commitment, his motivations to join the French Communist Party, and his contributions as an active member. Gertje R. Utley assesses the impact communism had on the artist's life and explores how Picasso's political beliefs and the doctrines of the Communist Party affected his artistic production.

Utley provides the first account in English of the intricate relations between the French Communist Party and its artists in the years immediately following the Liberation. She then examines in detail the role Picasso played within the Communist agenda, his financial and moral support, his active participation at Party events, and his artistic endorsement of the Party's most important ideological positions during the Cold War years. Addressing Picasso's unfailing loyalty in the face of both the Party's untenable political positions and the opposition within the Party to his art, this book offers new insight into aspects of the artist's thought and art that have been little considered before.

About the Author:
Gertje R. Utley is an independent scholar living in New York City and has contributed essays to several studies of Picasso, including Picasso and the Spanish Tradition, published by Yale University Press, and the exhibition catalogue, Picasso and the War Years: 1937-1945.

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Editorial Reviews

James Lord
Picaso: The Communist Years by Gertje R. Utley is a highly interesting and deeply serious study by a distinguished art historian who has already published two volumes devoted to various aspects of Picasso's prodigious oeuvre. It is only fair to observe at once- with regret- that the deep seriousness and high interest are not accompanied by penetrating insight and lucid understanding.

Picasso dreaded death and yearned for immortality. And it seems that until this very day he has, as usual, got what he wanted. Having set out to indict him, Utley cannot bring herself to do so. She describes in detail the creations and doings of the "Communist Years", but never an inkling of condemnation slips from her devious word processor. It allows, however, numerous factual inaccuracies and highly debatable aesthetic speculations, especially concerning the work of the final decades, which declined in formal, imaginative and even technical power.
Times Literary Supplement
Booknews
To the vast number of books on Picasso, this study finally adds treatment of the taboo subject of his active membership in the Communist Party, which he joined in 1944. A new reading of his works is the result, as Utley (an independent art historian in New York City) analyzes and contextualizes paintings, drawings, and prints in light of the artist's political involvement and thinking on events of the time, including Stalin, the Spanish civil war, the French Liberation, the Korean War, as well as his devotion to peace, his attitudes about Spain and Spanish politics, and the reception that resulted from his political activities. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300082517
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Series: Communist Years Series
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 11.21 (h) x 0.93 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2003

    Hostile account of great artist and communist

    This beautifully-illustrated book studies Pablo Picasso¿s artistic and political work after he joined the French Communist Party in 1944. `An illustrious son of democratic Spain¿, he opposed Franco, aided the resistance in Paris and championed France¿s post-war cultural renaissance. Utley details Picasso¿s creative efforts and depicts the care and constant reworking with which he conceived, executed and reproduced his designs in different media, whether murals, paintings, sculptures, posters, postcards, prints, brooches, key chains or pottery. She disposes of the well-travelled lie that Picasso admitted that his work was all a blague, a trick played on the public. In fact, as she shows, the alleged conversation was drawn from Il Libro Nero, a collection of fictitious interviews written by Giovanni Papini. Utley shows how `a strategy elaborated at the highest levels of the American government¿ presented the art of the New York School as a living manifestation of democracy as opposed to communism. The US state promoted Abstract Expressionism, to make New York supersede Paris as the capital of Western art. It promoted the notion of the Nietzschean artist, the individualistic, introspective genius in his ivory tower, free from all social and political concerns, casting Picasso as the `anti-artist¿, compromised because committed. Yet this is a deeply anti-communist account of a good communist. Utley sneers at what she calls the communists¿ `illusory goal of bridging the gap between art and the people¿, and at `the inadequacies of the artistic policies and aspirations of the French Communist party¿. It is clearly beyond the comprehension of the author, an American academic based at New York University, that Picasso was a loyal and active Party member for the rest of his long life ¿ which says more about the author¿s limits than the subject¿s! Her stale caricature of `repressive Party¿ and `servile member¿ fails completely to explain how people of the calibre of Picasso and his friends Paul Robeson, Pablo Neruda, Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard could be Party members. Were they all dupes? Unlike, say, an American academic, who cannot imagine how anyone cannot trust the US state?

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