Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art.
Andy Warhol: Yeah. I guess so. He knew what he was doing.
High Times: Do you think Picasso was conscious of his prices and his marketing?
Andy Warhol: Oh, yeah.
Pablo Picasso's relationship to the art market was characterized by extreme contradictions: strident in his support of Communism, particularly during the early '50s, he died one of the wealthiest men in France. His art stood for radicality and the toppling of conventions, yet he spent fifteen years living next door to his dealer on Paris' tony rue de la Boetie. Michael FitzGerald's Making Modernism begins with an account of how Picasso "lashed out" at his idealistic dealer Leonce Rosenberg in 1918, declaring " Le marchand - voila l'ennemi!" (The dealer - that's the enemy!); but when Rosenberg was replaced, in what FitzGerald describes as Picasso's "struggle to further his career by securing new aesthetic and financial support," it was by Leonce's brother, Paul - a savvier and wealthier man.
Paul Rosenberg began his relationship with Picasso in the summer of 1918, when the glamorous Chilean art patron Eugenia Errazuriz invited Picasso and his new wife, Olga, to spend their honeymoon in her villa near Biarritz. There Picasso met the pack of suave art dealers who made it their business to mix with Errazuriz's elegant guests. Rosenberg and his frequent partner, Georges Wildenstein, had rented villas down the road; over the summer, Picasso developed his relationship with them by making portraits of their wives and children. Their dialogue resulted in what was perceived as a market coup for Picasso: Rosenberg, with Wildenstein as his silent partner, offered to represent Picasso worldwide, and committed to buy a significant number of works each year. The Picasso-Rosenberg relationship, which lasted 21 years (Wildenstein dropped out of the agreement in 1932), is the primary focus of FitzGerald's book.
Once ensconced in Rosenberg's gallery, Picasso did not settle into a routine of portrait commissions. His Neoclassic works might seem neoconservative today, but they gave an unsettling shock to his Cubist followers, and by the mid '20s he was making some of the rawest, most adventurous work he ever produced. Picasso seemed to enjoy his comfortable circumstances less for the accoutrements of luxury than for the freedom to be his radical self.
An extraordinary transaction in 1924 demonstrated Picasso's contradictory relationship to the art market: the sale of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon to the couturier Jacques Doucet, negotiated with Picasso by Doucet's art advisor, Andre Breton. Picasso had refused many offers for the painting, but agreed to sell the most important early work remaining in his collection to Doucet for a below-market price. FitzGerald's fascinating analysis of this transaction suggests that Picasso made the sale as part of an impulse to reradicalize himself through his developing relationship with Breton. The opportunity to cement his ties with the Surrealists through the sale of the Demoiselles to a collector advised by Breton may have meant more to him than the money he could have earned by selling the painting elsewhere.
Making Modernism is filled with such little-known but essential art-historical information. Another episode treated with similar insight is the story of the funeral monument to Guillaume Apollinaire: Picasso's brilliant proposal turned out to be too radical for the memorial's commissioners. FitzGerald's account of Alfred Barr's effort to organize a Picasso retrospective for the Museum of Modern Art, and of his delicate competition with Rosenberg for control over selection, illustrates the subtle inter-play of divergent interests among artists, dealers, patrons, and curators in the development of museum exhibitions.
It is strangely fortunate for us that, as FitzGerald writes in his acknowledgments, "the abysmal state of the profession of art history" forced him to take an M.B.A. and work for Christie's. It was his detour from the conventional art-historian's path, he writes, that gave him the inclination to approach "the history of art as an integral part of modern life." The most integral part of modern life is of course how people, artists included, try to make a living. Even after all the work on Picasso's relationships with his wives and mistresses, with his writer friends, and with his fellow artists, relatively little has been written on his relations with his dealers. When I visited Paul Rosenberg's son Alexandre in 1980 to interview him for an article about Picasso's economic history, he started the conversation by remarking in an irritated tone, "Hasn't enough been written about Picasso?" In fact the Rosenberg family's own story about its long relationship with Picasso had not yet been told. FitzGerald has made an important contribution to Picasso scholarship by endeavoring to record it.
I hope FitzGerald will continue to write on these subjects, since one of the largest and most interesting topics regarding Modern art could still be more fully addressed. This is the relationship between Modernism and capitalism. Were the two necessary for each other's success? Would the Communist system that Picasso admired have countenanced the artistic innovation of the Modern period in the West? The relative abilities of free markets and controlled markets to spawn artistic innovations would make a fascinating study. It will be necessary to examine these questions further before we can better understand how Modernism was made.
Jeffrey Deitch is a New York dealer active in the market for contemporary and early-20th-century art.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
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