2018 is the year of Picasso’s renaissance. In May, he graced the cover of National Geographic, and in March, the Tate Modern launched “The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy,” the first-ever Picasso exhibit at the London museum. It’s no wonder that Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts decided to have their own Picasso show, From Africa to the Americas: Picasso Face-to-Face, Past and Present. The exhibition juxtaposed Picasso’s works with sources from which he drew inspiration, namely the work of African artists. Identified only by their region, Dogon Artist, Dan Artist, and other African artists make up the majority of the exhibit space. The focus, however, is always on Picasso.
It seemed as though the MMFA was trying to take advantage of Picasso’s name in hopes of attracting more visitors; however, even with the assemblage of Picasso’s works, there were barely enough of his paintings present to merit his name being in the exhibition title. Along with the Picassos, the MMFA sprinkled in work by contemporary black artists, moving up pieces like “I Learned the Hard Way” (2010) by Mickalene Thomas and “Simeon the God Receiver” (2015) by Kehinde Wiley from the basement’s International Contemporary Art Pavilion to join Picasso upstairs. In February, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled Wiley’s presidential portrait of Barack Obama.
From Africa to the Americas: Picasso Face-to-Face, Past and Present felt unfocused and mismatched. Though the MMFA attempted to bring attention to the African art which inspired Western European artists, who ended up appropriating parts of its styles and techniques, the bankability of Picasso’s name obscured their message. The museum did a disservice to the contemporary black artists featured in the exhibit, further marginalizing their work. Maybe, this is a first step to a slow reconciliation and the dismantling of the Western art canon. Still, it would have been more beneficial had the museum removed Picasso’s name and focused instead on African art, black contemporary artists, and the ways their techniques influenced artists such as Picasso and Gauguin.
From Africa to the Americas: Picasso Face-to-Face, Past and Present runs until Sept. 16 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts(1380 Sherbrooke Ouest). Student admission is $12 and $10 on Wednesday evenings.