News: MutualArt

'The Political world of Picasso is very complex'

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Picasso: Peace and Freedom curator Lynda Morris spoke with about the artist's politics and the criticism she has received about the exhibition due to her revelation of the concealment of Picasso's serious political involvement in the post war period.

MutualArt: What inspired you to explore the political side of Picasso's life and work?
Lynda Morris: In 1980, I published an article on Picasso and the Sheffield Peace Congress of November 1950. This was my response to moving to East Anglia and having nightmares about nuclear warfare. But it goes back even further: My grandmother was in Wal Hannington's Unemployed Workers Movement and she put up in a spare room workers from the North of England, who were waiting for transports to Spain to fight for the Republicans in the 1930s.

MA: Are there specific characteristics unique to his political works?
Morris: His political works are mainly in black and white, and I think he was interested in mass communication, news reel footage and photography in magazines and newspapers. He dates his work by the day and it is a kind of news diary of major events seen through his satirical use of other artists’ work. He published drawings regularly in the newspaper of the French Communist Party l'Humanite and Les Lettres Francais. I think his sense of newspapers and black & white works is a response to what he felt were the outdated ideas of soviet inspired socialist realism. He was communicating in the popular language of his time after WWII, just as Andy Warhol did a decade later.

Cover of 'Les Lettres Francaises', 12 to 19 March 1953, with Picasso's Stalin drawing
Collection G. Gosselin

MA: Have you received any critical opposition to the exhibition?
Morris: Yes. There are a lot of reputations vested in a non-political interpretation of Picasso and they are obviously upset by my revelation of the concealment of Picasso's serious political involvement in the post war period. There has also been opposition to Picasso's sympathetic engagement with the USSR.

I have felt that perhaps the Israeli lobby does not want to admit the extent to which the USSR lost so many people fighting the Germans. They prefer to attribute all the deaths to Stalin's Gulags because of their understandable fear that to admit the enormous Russian sacrifice in defeating the Germans would diminish the importance of the Holocaust in today's political arena. And so our fear of Russia has changed since the end of the Cold War, but not diminished.

Also, I had no idea before this research of the severity of anti-Semitism in the US surrounding the House Committee on Un-American Activities, in addition to McCarthy and Dondero's attacks on East European Jewish influence on Communism in the US between 1946 and the early 1960s. Even Alfred Barr at MoMA was practicing what to say - should he be called in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities - almost at the same time the CIA was directing art policy in Europe.

The political world of Picasso is very complex and near the centre of issues which remain confusing to us until today. My original title for the show was Picasso: Peace or Freedom, Peace being the theme of the USSR and Freedom that of the US. I liked that dialectic which is not there in Picasso: Peace and Freedom. One of the famous White Cube artists said to me the other day: "Lynda do you know what you have done? You have taken Picasso away from all the rich collectors and given him back to the radical roots of contemporary art.”

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Pablo Picasso
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