Sally Perisho, the highly regarded director of Metropolitan State College's Center for the Visual Arts, has been at the eye of a whirlwind the past few weeks. Last month her gallery moved from the corner of Wazee and 17th Streets in LoDo to a pair of storefronts next to the Robischon Gallery down the block, arriving just in time to open Picasso: His Print Work, a display devoted to the printmaking of the greatest artist of the century. "All in one week, we moved, then we unpacked, hung and opened the show," says Perisho. In keeping with the tradition of both Picasso and Perisho, the show is visually stunning and intelligent--and a most appropriate way to inaugurate the center's dazzling new location.
The change in address for the nonprofit art center was spurred by a big rent hike at the old spot. But that was only one of the reasons Perisho made the decision to move. "People loved the old space, and it was beautiful," she explains. "But for a curator, it was a nightmare. Most of the walls were only ten feet long, which don't hold major pieces; it was dark; there was a lack of security; and the windows on 17th Street created a glare that made the art hard to see."
All of these problems have been corrected by the move to the airy new space, which formerly was occupied by a pair of galleries--the now defunct Art of Craft and the Sandy Carson Gallery, which has moved to the Golden Triangle neighborhood. As a result, many art-friendly features were already in place, including nearly imperceptible tinting on the windows, state-of-the-art climate controls and sophisticated fire and burglar-alarm systems. "We now have elaborate security measures, just like the Denver Art Museum," says Perisho. "The windows are even unbreakable."
The remodeling of the two separate galleries into a single, expansive space was directed by Perisho. There are now six discrete galleries, a handsome, well-lit workshop, offices and storage space. According to Perisho, "It now looks like an art center instead of a gallery." That should make fundraising easier, she adds, by allowing the center to mount major shows that may in turn attract major donors.
Perisho's labors have helped give the new gallery twice the exhibition space of the center's former home. But that in itself has created a problem: She's had to scramble to supplement shows that were originally booked for Metro's older, smaller space. The Picasso exhibit, for instance, was to feature only posters. Realizing that she needed to greatly expand the show's size to fill the much larger new space, Perisho contacted the DAM and asked to borrow an assortment of Picasso prints. The resulting exhibit joins Picasso's prints to his posters, and though the original inclusions are wonderful, many of the most memorable items are found among the last-minute selections from the DAM.
The DAM owns many Picasso prints, but not enough to fully survey the master's accomplishments in the medium. That's perhaps why Perisho unfortunately chose not to hang this section in chronological order. This is a minor complaint, however, since most of the prints from the DAM (as well as a pair loaned by private collectors) have never before been publicly exhibited in Denver.
Several of the prints take up the theme of artist and model, a subject that Picasso frequently chose for his pieces. "L'Atelier (The Studio)" is a sublime etching from 1927; the delicate and masterful lines set against the ecru-colored paper show his prowess at conveying complicated scenes with an economy of line. "L'Atelier" also shows modernist Picasso's interest in traditional style, as does "Le Repos du Sculpteur (The Sculptor at Rest)" from the famous "Vollard Suite." In this lithograph from 1933, Picasso depicts himself lying on a bed, holding his lover, Marie-Therese Walter, in his arms. In the foreground is an image of Picasso's famous sculpture of Walter's head done a year or two before.
Near "L'Atelier" and "Le Repos" is a specially designed display case holding three unframed leaves of paper. These are the three 1962 lithographs collectively titled "Le Peintre et Son Modele (The Painter and His Model)." Picasso's style is markedly different in these prints; instead of showing off his meticulous draftsmanship, they have a scribbled, slapdash quality.
Perisho has included several other prints from late in Picasso's career, among them the somber 1962 lithograph "Tete de Faune (Head of a Faun)." Using a resist to create heavy white lines, Picasso places a simple sketch of the faun's head against a rich and varied brown field. The artist produced the striations and swirls in this sea of brown in some unknown way, though the accompanying label copy suggests he may have used steel wool on the litho stone. Placed next to the "Tete de Faune" is the lyrical print "Football," a colored lithograph that takes up the topic of soccer. A yellow ball in the center is surrounded by amoebic figures, each marked by red or blue stripes that evoke the bold colors of soccer uniforms.
Also in the front gallery are the two prints on loan from private collectors. Both are magnificent. The 1923 lithograph "La Toilette" is one of the most traditional prints in the show. It reveals a scene, cast in a classical light, of a woman being groomed by servants. Next to "La Toilette" is the only print in the show that's even vaguely cubist--"The Bathers," a 1930 lithograph depicting a group of women at the seashore.
Some of the most significant prints are to be found in the two smaller galleries that Perisho has carved out of her new space. And none are more important than the DAM-owned etchings from the famous "Les Saltimbanques" series, which Picasso began in 1904 and completed in 1906. This was the time of his "blue period," but since they're etchings, the prints are, of course, in black and white. Their subject is the circus--not its raucous, fun-filled aspects, but rather the grinding poverty of the performers. Nothing expresses this better than "Le Repas Frugal (The Frugal Repast)," a scene of hardship and alienation that stands as one of Picasso's best-known images. It reveals an emaciated couple sitting at a table; the man and woman are embracing, but their heads are turned away from each other.
Twelve of the fourteen "Les Saltimbanques" etchings created by Picasso are included in Perisho's show. They were donated to the DAM in the 1960s by Denver artist Marion Hendrie, who, interestingly, also gave the DAM its only two Picasso oil paintings. What makes this relevant to the Metro show is that both oil paintings are currently on view at the DAM for the first time in decades. On the first floor, in the Stanton Galleries, is 1937's "Still Life," which was almost deaccessioned last year; on the sixth floor is the important Cezannesque landscape "Horta de Ebro," from 1909.
The print section of the Metro show ends with "L'cuyere (Circus Rider)," a 1960 lithograph that was a gift from another Denver artist, Vance Kirkland. This piece features a corpulent nude woman riding an equally corpulent horse. Picasso has unified the scene with an all-over pattern of black ink blobs in the abstract-expressionist manner.
At this point in the show, the posters appear. Unlike the print section, the posters, a traveling show from the permanent collection of Texas's El Paso Museum, are displayed in chronological order.
Picasso's posters differ greatly from his prints. For the most part, they're bolder and more simply conceived than his limited-edition work, as befits the publicity-minded poster medium. Picasso was a prolific poster maker, creating, according to El Paso Museum curator Stephen Vollmer's written remarks, "as many posters as his contemporaries--Braque, Fernand Leger, Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse--combined." Though Picasso began to make posters as early as 1901, the oldest pieces in this section date from the 1940s and '50s. Collector Phyllis Bounds, who gathered the posters in the first place (and who bequeathed them to the El Paso Museum), focused on the artist's later works, purchasing them on her frequent trips to Europe.
Over the years, Picasso created a score of posters for events in the French town of Vallauris, where he moved in 1947. Most commemorate pottery shows, and more than a dozen are included here. "Potteries, Fleurs, Parfums (Pottery, Flowers, Perfume)" is the first poster commission Picasso got after moving to Vallauris. The poster is dominated by the simple head of a faun done in shades of dark sienna; half the face is in shadow, the other half in light. The 1948 lithograph "Potteries" was commissioned by the Potters Association in Vallauris, which has been a ceramic center since Roman times.
Many of the Vallauris posters incorporate the faun's head as a motif. In "Vallauris Exposition," a linocut from 1952, the animal's head is divided into three parts, with the face bracketed by two profiles. The composition's geometry anticipates minimalism and hard-edged abstraction--by ten years. Very closely related is a linocut from 1956, "Vallauris, Bulls." In this poster, which advertises bullfights in Vallauris, there are crisp margins between the forms. Replacing the faun's head is a circle that contains the head of a bull next to a crude sketch of a picador on horseback.
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Bullfighting was a popular theme for Picasso, a Spaniard by birth, and he takes up the subject again in the 1957 linocut "Toros en Vallauris." Using a dusty blue ink against the cream-colored paper, Picasso takes the bull's eye as his central motif. Reflected in the eye is the mounted picador attacking a bull; above and below the eye is crude printing done in a white resist.
The newest and last poster in the show is "Picasso, Das Graphische Werk, 1904-1967." This one is different from the others--and not only because the text is in German. Picasso created the image for this poster, but the overall design was done by an uncredited graphic artist.
This weekend would be the ideal time to catch Picasso: His Print Work; it provides the perfect excuse to miss the always-excessive Cherry Creek Arts Festival across town. Since reopening last month, the Visual Arts Center has been mobbed, and you may run into crowds here as well--but at least nobody will threaten to paint your face.
Picasso: His Print Work, through August 11 at the MSCD Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street, 294-5207.