Photo: AlbaCiudad retrieved

Camarada Picasso opened last week in Caracas, at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Armando Reverón (formerly Sofía Ímber), a week-long event that included the exhibition of the 149 Picasso paintings that are part of the museum collection, with movies and documentaries screenings, all dedicated to the Spanish painter that gave Guernica to the world.

The paintings were acquired through the effort of Sofía Ímber, the Moldova-born Venezuelan journalist and art promoter who founded the museum in 1974 and managed it for almost three decades. Seeing it now, you wouldn’t know, though.

Imber was dismissed from her post in 2001 by Hugo Chávez. In 2006, he also ordered the removal of her name from the museum. “I’m the founder of that museum and nobody can take that away from me,” Ímber declared during a press conference in 2001. “I had no other goal or concern in my life than the museum.”

Sergio Monsalve, documentarian and film critic, reported his visit to the exhibition… and he was appalled: “You visit the museum now and find just a series of empty rooms. It’s quite a contrast to the great image it had, to all the expositions curated by Sofía and those close to her,” he said to Caracas Chronicles.

“You visit the museum now and find just a series of empty rooms. It’s quite a contrast to the great image it had.”

Sofía Ímber passed away in 2017. Not only was she the first female museum director in the country, her example also led a modernization of the museum system nationwide. Nowadays, under the guise of “recovered spaces for the people,” the government pretends to bury her legacy, making no reference to her during the exhibit.

“If chavismo thought they were wiping the slate clean, that they were re-founding the museum,” Monsalve adds, “then you have here a metaphor of the country, a well-established, well-funded institution turned right now into a shadow of what it was.”

The other controversial element is Pablo Ruiz Picasso himself. The exposition stresses Picasso’s communism, calling him a revolutionary icon. That’s fair, a Tate Liverpool exposition also explored Picasso’s politics in 2010.

The difference is that the Tate Liverpool tried to reunite and discuss the few works of his that were actually political, mainly antifascist and generally antiwar. After all, Picasso, like most exiled Spaniards, had very strong feelings against Franco.

The works exhibited at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, meanwhile, are mostly experimentations on cubism, with the strained political reading Minister Ernesto Villegas and others try to imprint.

 

“If they want to sell a respected artist as Picasso and link him with communism, then they should make the case for it, backing it up with the artist’s work. When you go the exhibit and see the paintings, these refute the curatorial text,” Monsalve explains.

Picasso certainly considered himself political, joining the French Communist Party in the 40s, but, as Monsalve points out, there was a divorce between what he preached and how he acted.

Yes, in 1945 he stated that:

I’m a communist and my painting is a communist painting. But if I were a shoemaker, royalist or communist or anything else, I would not necessarily hammer my shoes in any special way to show my politics.

But by 1968, he wrote:

“I no longer understand the politics of the left and I have no wish to talk about it. I decided long ago that if I wanted to deal with such matters, I should have to change profession and go into politics. But of course that is impossible.”

“When you go the exhibit and see the paintings, these refute the curatorial text.”

Many communists, though certainly thankful of all the francs he donated to the party, were ambivalent to him as a person and as an artist. As art historian David Caute stated to Deutsche Welle, “They regarded him as decadent and formalistic and influenced by Western capitalist aesthetics.”

Art in the USSR (and by extension, most communist governments) was rigidly limited to Socialist Realism, a dogmatic and repetitive style focused on idealized, optimistic representations of workers, everyday life, and Lenin, Stalin and the whole lot. They’re mostly known today for the decaying statues and murals all around the former Soviet Union.

Yet, had it not been for the liberties that France gave Picasso, it’s unlikely he would’ve made a portrait of Stalin that was categorically rejected by communist leaders.

Art is born from freedom. Freedom of creation, freedom of interpretation, freedom of expression. Without that, you might have a nice-looking building to hang pretty pictures and sculptures, lacking the necessary congress of ideas and views that make art lasting in people’s minds.

“The problem is that chavismo has relied on the appropriation of other people’s achievements and legacies.”

Chavismo has thrown money at programs and artists, from publishing houses to art schools, all in the hopes of building up an intelligentsia. Yet, maybe with the exception of cinema, it has failed to make significant or memorable contributions to Venezuelan arts and culture. It’s telling that the revolution’s prominent artists and intellectuals (like Román Chalbaud and Luis Britto García) had their heyday in the 70s and 80s.

For Monsalve, the problem isn’t the State financing arts—democratic governments in Venezuela managed to support very diverse voices. The problem is that chavismo has relied on the appropriation (quite literally in the case of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo) of other people’s achievements and legacies to call them their own, in many cases with the complicity of artists and intellectuals looking for funds. They didn’t start El Sistema or Monte Ávila, but they made them “theirs and theirs only.”

“It’s what I call a ‘forced culture,’ one that’s created by the machinery, and making art like this, from top-to-bottom without taking into consideration vital elements of artistic expression, produces today’s landscape.”

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17 COMMENTS

  1. “For Monsalve, the problem isn’t the State financing arts—democratic governments in Venezuela managed to support very diverse voices. The problem is that chavismo has relied on the appropriation (quite literally in the case of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo) of other people’s achievements and legacies to call them their own, in many cases with the complicity of artists and intellectuals looking for funds. They didn’t start El Sistema or Monte Ávila, but they made them “theirs and theirs only.””

    Kind of the whole point of “nationalizing” things… let someone do the hard work of creating something from nothing, take it by force and say “Look what I have done for El Pueblo”… then promptly destroy it.

    Of course, a proper destruction needs excuses such as “sabotaje!” and “guerra económica!” Couldn’t possibly fail otherwise…

  2. That was an interesting discussion. I had forgotten about that Picasso collection. I saw it a couple of times a long time ago, and I remember it being a large collection of drawings and prints. I don’t actually remember seeing a painting. It seemed like a really remarkable thing to wind up in the middle of Caracas, hidden away in a sort of bunker among the government towers, and it was obviously the work of a remarkable, single-mindedly dedicated person (and the outlay of a small fortune).

    The exhibit I remember seeing – a long time ago so it is not too reliable- emphasized his exploration of Greek myth – not exactly socialist realist material, and not even what people might normally associate with Picasso.

    Picasso was obviously a serious and well known critic of the Franco regime. But from the biographical material I’ve read and exhibitions I’ve seen (and it is not like I search them out- they pop up everywhere), it never occurred to me that Picasso was – beyond the Guernica statement- a “political” artist. I don’t think that disembodied women and musical instruments are the kinds of things that inspire at the barricades. But yes, I could well imagine the Bolivarian Ministry of Art and Culture or whatever turning this hidden treasure into some such thing.

    I’m surprised they haven’t auctioned it all off to pay for that giant skateboard ramp they built over Simon Bolivar’s bones.

    • Why don’t you post something relevant, instead of trying to appear “smart?”

      Because believe me, you fail on both counts. You disgust me.

      Every day, every time.

      • Ira. The post was about a Picasso collection in Caracas, it’s treatment by Chavismo and the political views of that artist. I have seen the collection and though it may not be up to your standard of relevance and profundity, have some views on the artist – as a lot of people do.

        As the well known biographer of Picasso Norman Mailer liked to put it: WTF is your problem, asshole?

          • Ira, during the many years I have been commenting here (i.e. going back more than the roughly two and a half years you have), I’ve commented from time to time about events I’ve observed in Venezuela FROM VENEZUELA. Now, either I am a genius of deception carrying on an elaborate and meaningless decade-long ruse, or you should just settle down, maybe talk to somebody as Mr. Kilo suggests, and an apology would be nice.

  3. The real issue is that Chavismo pretends to disguise itself as “socialist” or “communist” or “revolutionary” when in facts it ain’t any of that. Like most “socialists” or “communists”, all they are is greedy thieves and hungry capitalists. They love MONEY and power above all. They adore possessions.

    Tragically, the Kleptozuelan populace is often ignorant enough not to be able to discern the difference. All the populist talk and Chavistoide media crap often percolates. Some people are corrupt enough or ignorant enough, or both, that they actually buy so much blatant crap about “socialismo” and “patria” and shyt like that. Some even believe Chavista Thugs actually care about “el pueblo”. Heck, 15% of they entire remaining populace would actually vote again – today – for Masburro, Delcy, Cabello, Reverol and Tarek. 15% of about 30 Million people. Others are so clueless that they have no idea what “socialismo” actually means or should mean, what “communism” and Marx stupid theories actually were, much less any real history of the miserable failures of fake “communism” in China, Cuba or Russia.

    That’s the complicity/corruption and/or sheer ignorance that Chavismo continues to exploit. Most remaining pueblo people simply have zero clue about world history or real semantics. Much less do they know anything -zip, nada, zilch- about Cubism or Expressionism or any Art, or Picasso. Therefore Chavismo can present it any freaking way they want, lie about it, and often get away with it. Tell an average guy or gal from Guatire, Maracaibo, Cumana, or Petare anything you want about Art or History. What the hell do they usually know anyway.

    Sadly, “el pueblo” is far less bright and well educated than Elite people like Sofia Imber were. And they couldn’t care less about Art in any advanced forms, real literature, real paintings, sculpture or theater. Just look at what some did with Cruz Diez leaving from the airport. Steal pieces of it.

    “Picasso en Petare, y que viva el Comunismo”.. (Que se joda la gran Sofia Imber..) Almost laughable, actually tragic, but they often get away with much worse barbarisms than this, simply because their audience, most average remaining people, are beyond clueless and hardly even know what a good joropo may be. Not all, but most.

  4. Thanks for the article. I hadn’t known about her. She was an achiever who got around, who left her mark. The pintamiami link ( “Sofia Imbur.”, 2nd paragraph) has a photo of her with William Luers, former US Ambassador to Venezuela and Director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. No, not Jim Luers. 🙂

  5. There was a very interesting article in some magazine I was reading the other day and I cant remember the name… god I’m getting old…

    … anyway the main point of the thing was how “Guernica” was… not about Guernica. That looking at the circunstances and documents and all that, you can see that Guernica is about some themes Picasso was working on already, but then circumstances made him put the name as to raise awareness/fill the request to show a pro-Spanish Republic government painting at their International Expo in París in 1937.

    Which is a much more honest way to get political needs and situations involved, starting with the actual painter being onboard, than this.

    • Speaking of Guernica, I like EDO’s take on Guernica using Venezuela’s Chavismo as the villain instead of Franco. Daniel uses it as a pinned tweet on his Twitter account (@danielduquenal).

    • The Reina Sofia museum that houses the Guernica had on last summer a very detailed presentation of the history of the making of the Guernica for the Paris expo. At the risk of triggering another outburst from another commenter, my impression was, the Guernica was created as a specific reference to the bombing of that town, however, it incorporates formal elements that Picasso had been working on for a while in other contexts and would continue to develop (elements that had nothing to do with war or politics). But per your comment, I wouldn’t put Picasso above shaping his vision to meet a funding opportunity. We all have to make a living. In his later years he churned out what were basically cartoons.

  6. There’s nothing strange or wrong about thinking people being communists in the mid-20th century. Lee Kwan Yew was a communist at one point, for Chrissakes.

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