A rare and original exhibition entitled ‘Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay’ has just opened at the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Curated by Professor Nikolaos C. Stampolidis, Director of the Museum of Cycladic Art, and art historian Olivier Berggruen, the exhibition sees ceramics and drawings by Picasso interact with ancient artefacts as part of the Divine Dialogues exhibition series.

Sixty-eight rare ceramics and drawings by Picasso featuring birds, animals, sea creatures, humans, and mythological beasts (centaurs, the Minotaur) or inspired by ancient drama and comedies, converse thematically for the first time with 67 ancient works, creating another Divine Dialogue between Greek antiquity and modern art.

Picasso’s compositions – ceramics and drawings created between the 1920’s and 1960’s – come from foreign foundations, museums, and collections, including Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA), Musée National Picasso – Paris, Musée Picasso Antibes, Museo Picasso Μálaga, Museum Berggruen (Berlin) and private collections.

The antiquities come from 15 Greek museums and collections, namely the National Archaeological Museum, the Archaeological Museums of the Ancient Agora, Agios Nikolaos, Chania, Chora (Messenia), Delos, Eretria, Herakleion, Marathon, Paros, Patras, Thebes, the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Alpha Bank Numismatic Collection and the Cyprus Museum. They include sculptures, ceramics and bronze artefacts dating from Prehistory (from c. 3200 BC) to the Late Roman period (to the mid-third century AD).

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Among the most interesting ‘pairs’ presented in this exhibition, which has been organised with the support of the Musée National Picasso – Paris and the ‘Picasso Méditerranée’ project, are the white clay Centaur with incised and slip-painted decoration, which Picasso created at Vallauris on 3 January 1953, conversing with the unique 10th century BC Proto-Geometric Centaur figurine from Lefkandi in Euboea and a sixth-century BC Cypro-Archaic Centaur. Or Picasso’s Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl by the Sea (Boisgeloup, 22 September 1934), paired with the Κilling of the Minotaur by Theseus on a Late Classical Red Figure calyx krater (340–330 BC) from the National Archaeological Museum or the Torso of a Minotaur statue, a Roman copy of an Early Classical prototype.

Unlike his unique paintings, the great 20th century artist’s drawings and ceramics are little known to the wider public. These are closely related to antiquity, inspired by the Creto-Mycenaean, Greek, and ancient Mediterranean civilisations in general. This exhibition reveals a world the artist carried within himself. It showcases antiquities that he might have seen in the ancient lands of the Mediterranean, but also in European museums, in the books he read, or during his encounters with Christian Zervos and Jean Cocteau.

Throughout his long and productive career, Picasso consulted a wide variety of sources, adapting and transforming them relentlessly. The Classical tradition provided the Spanish master with a vocabulary of endless possibilities to be manipulated and modified. Prominent among these sources was ancient Greece, for it created an enduring mythology as well as a fertile iconography. From the time he copied antique plaster casts in his youth, Picasso was seduced by many themes derived from Greek mythology, drawn by their amplification of the mundane or their persistent aspiration to highlight humanity’s conflicting impulses. The Minotaur, for example, this Dionysian creature, half-beast, half-human, symbolised the dark regions of the psyche, becoming a telling symbol of the irrational forces of war.

Another, more benign vision of Greece emerged as well, one in which the ancient themes and stories lead to an idealised vision, a timeless Arcadia, which Picasso developed in sculptures and ceramics after the war. Yet, these works, unlike some earlier ones, are devoid of weighty associations with Greek myth. Rather, Picasso invented a fictitious or imagined antiquity. In the small village of Vallauris in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, he developed an extraordinary body of ceramics, objects that give us a vague idea of a mythical past, imbued with timeless and relevant imagery in the form of fauns, birds, musicians, etc.

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The element that binds both ceramics, old and new, and Picasso’s illustrations derived from the antique (the Three Graces or Aristophanes’s Lysistrata) has to do with form and design, and not just iconography. Of particular relevance is the line, whether in drawings from the 1920’s and 1930’s or the lines traced on ceramics and reminiscent of Attic Red Figure vases, for example. ‘Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay’ exhibition demonstrates the force of Picasso’s imaginary, yet strongly felt Antiquity and the lasting spell that objects from the past cast on us.

‘Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay’ 
When: 20 June-20 October, 2019
Where: Museum of Cycladic Art (4, Neofytou Douka str. and Vasilis Sofias & Irodotou 1 10674 Athens, Greece)
For more information: www.cycladic.gr