Picasso and the Invention of Cubismby Pepe Karmel, Pablo Picasso
This book transforms our understanding of Cubism, showing in unprecedented detail how it emerged in Picasso's work of the years 1906–13, and tracing its roots in nineteenth-century philosophy and linguistics. Linking well-known paintings and sculptures to the hitherto-ignored drawings that accompanied them, Pepe Karmel demonstrates how Picasso's quest to depict the human body with greater solidity led, paradoxically, to its fragmentation; and how Picasso used the archaic model of stage space to free himself from conventional perspective, replacing the open window of Renaissance painting with a new projective space. In other chapters, Karmel discusses the empiricist philosophy championed by Hippolyte Taine, which encouraged the breakdown of painting into its abstract elements, and laid the groundwork for an art of mental association rather than naturalistic figuration. Similarly, contemporary philology provided the model for a visual language employing both metaphoric and metonymic (but not arbitrary) signs. Combining intellectual history with close visual reading, Picasso and the Invention of Cubism opens new perspectives on the most influential movement in twentieth-century art.
Author Biography: Pepe Karmel is Associate Professor of Fine Arts at New York University.
- Yale University Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 8.50(w) x 10.75(h) x (d)
Read an Excerpt
In the last two decades there has been a virtual explosion in studies of Picasso and of Cubism. Social history has proven a particularly fruitful approach, yielding new insights into the links between Cubism and anarchism, the threat of war, the art market, entertainment, fashion, science, psychology, and philosophy. The publication of the first two volumes of John Richardson and Marilyn McCully's magisterial _Life of Picasso_ has tremendously enriched our understanding of the circumstances in which Cubism emerged, and of the private concerns hidden behind its facade of impersonal form. Other scholars, drawing on the model of semiology, have argued that the key achievement of Cubism was Picasso's reinvention of painting as a system of arbitrary sign comparable to a written or spoken language. What all of these approaches have in common is their opposition--or at least indifference--to the formalism that had previously dominated Cubsit criticism.
This shift in the character of Cubist criticism corresponds to changes in the larger art world. Through much of the twentieth century, it seems as if the story of modern art could be summed up as an evolution from representation to abstraction. Cubism's role in this story was to effect a formal revolution, replacing the natural shapes of figures and objects with a new language of abstract forms, and substituting a shallow space of overlapping planes for the deep space of Renaissance art. Picasso himself may have refused to abandon the goal of representation; later artists would be more radical, taking advantage of Cubism's discoveries to create a thoroughly abstract art.
By 1980 this story was no longer credible. The human figure and the natural world had returned as important elements within "advanced" art. Pure abstraction no longer seemed revolutionary; on the contrary, it was widely perceived as the preferred style of the political establishment. What now seemed subversive in Cubism was precisely its impure combination of abstraction and representation.
The partisans of semiology and of social history have often attacked each other. Nonetheless, for the last twenty years, their differing approaches to Cubism have functioned in a complementary fashion. Semiologists have argued that Cubsim functions like a language, evoking the real world without have to represent it illusionistically, while social historians have explored the messages conveyed by this language. Today, it is Cubism's formal development that is unduly neglected. The social historians tend to regard this formal development as a "given"--something that need to be interpreted by not to be explored in its own right. One might expect the semiologists to take a different view. However, their allegiance to the Saussurean doctrine of the arbitrariness of the sign has tended to close off this avenue of investigation: there is no reason to investigate the character or development of something that is deemed, a priori, to be arbitrary. In practice, both social his
torians and semiologists have tended to regard the formal development of Cubism as a matter adequately described in earlier accounts.
There are two problems with this assumption. One is that it ignores the new visual evidence that has become available since the formulation of the "canonical" accounts of Cubism. Numerous drawings, paintings, and sculptures critical to the understanding of Picasso's development in the years 1906-13 were exhibited and published only after his death in 1973. Much of this material was simply unavailable to earlier authors, and requires significant revisions to their narratives. This process of revision was begun by Pierre Daix in his 1979 catalogue raisonne of Picasso's Cubist work but is far from complete, even today.
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An incisive, compelling account of the development of Cubism within Picasso's work from the years 1906-13. Karmel examines Picasso's notebooks, drawings, paintings, and sculpture to expand on how ideas were formed and translated into the artist's working process. He brilliantly articulates how Picasso’s attempts to depict the human body with greater solidity led its fragmentation within his art. The book is divided into chapters based on key concepts: "Ideas," "Spaces," "Bodies," and "Signs." Color reproductions of paintings and drawings are spread throughout the book and are laid out ideally next to the accompanying text. One example of a brilliant piece of analysis is a sub-chapter called, "From Mass to Volume: Spring-Summer 1910," where Karmel examines a painting by Cezanne, "Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress" (1880) alongside a series of paintings of a seated woman by Picasso, made from 1909 to 1910, all inspired by the Cezanne. 'Picasso and The Invention of Cubism' is an essential book for students and enthusiasts of modern art and Picasso. You would gain a lot from it if you read it along with other works by art historians like Leo Steinberg, Rosalind Krauss, Edward Fry and Kirk Varnedoe. Pepe Karmel is one of the truly great art historians and critics around today, and this early work of his is an essential guide for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of Picasso's work.