Francis Picabia

Francis Picabia

“Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction”
Museum of Modern Art
New York, 11 West 53rd Street

A little known historic fact is that Francis Picabia, born to a French mother and a Cuban father who worked as an attaché in Paris, covertly sold his father’s valuable Spanish paintings after switching the originals with their imitations in order to raise money to amass a stamp collection. While this trivia about the pioneer Dadaist is just another evidence of his keen wit, Picabia’s career was shaped by such ardor and curiosity towards unconventional methods. Coinciding with Dada’s 100th anniversary celebrations at its hometown Zürich where the movement emerged in the aftermath of World War I at Cabaret Voltaire, Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, initially exhibited at Kunsthaus Zürich this summer, commemorates Picabia’s preeminent career. The Museum of Modern Art hosts the exhibition in New York, where the artist surprisingly receives his first U.S. retrospective more than a half century after his passing. 

  Francis Picabia (French, 1879–1953). Portrait d’un docteur (Portrait of a Doctor). 1935/c. 1938. Oil on canvas

Francis Picabia (French, 1879–1953). Portrait d’un docteur (Portrait of a Doctor). 1935/c. 1938. Oil on canvas

Picabia started his artistic career creating Impressionist and Cubist paintings, and his association with the latter introduced him to a group of peers including Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, and Man Ray, figures who together with Picabia spearheaded the foundations of Dada movement. Although Picabia’s surreal and provoking work evolved and shifted over the years due to his fascination with transformation as well as his struggle with psychological instability, one thing remained the same: his unorthodox handle of the human condition with unparalleled ambition. The eagerness shared by Dada artists to dismantle social and political standards of their time provided Picabia unvisited territories in expression of the reality and the subconsciousness. 

Through painting, drawing, and collage as well as other creative channels such as poetry, theatre, and publishing, the artist delivered an expansive body of work that could rarely be eclipsed in caliber. His “consistent inconsistencies” as MoMA’s press release points out bore a diverse repertoire featuring romantic Impressionistic paintings of the nature, bright toned Cubist structures under the influence of urbanization, Dadaist experiments pushing the limits of works on paper and publishing, and later in his career brutalist paintings again holding traces from Surrealism and Dada, yet this time rebellious against their fixated manifestations, all derived from the artist’s enduring inventive fervor. 

Featuring two hundred works in a variety of mediums, Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction was co-curated by Anne Umland and Talia Kwartler of MoMA and Cathėrine Hug of Kunsthaus Zürich, where the exhibition remained on view through September 25, 2016. While the exhibition brings together hundred and twenty-five paintings, close to forty-five works on paper, one moving image, and a selection of printed ephemera are also included to fully conceptualize the artist’s expansive oeuvre. The highlights include some of his most renowned paintings such as Je revois en souvenir ma chére Udnie (I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie) (1914),Tableu Rastadada (Rastadada Painting) (1920), and L’Oeil Cacodylate (The Cacodylic Eye) (1921). The exhibition catalogue, besides essays by notable art historians, includes Cathérine Hug’s interviews with a group of distinguished contemporary artists whose works have been strongly influenced by Picabia. These artists include Peter Fischli, Albert Oehlen, David Salle, and Rita Vitorelli. 

November 21, 2016 — March 19, 2017

 

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