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Review 13 Feb 12

Picasso Ceramics in Belgrade

The new Belgrade exhibit "Picasso at the Côte d' Azur" presents (deservedly) lesser known ceramic pieces from the artist's later years.

Andrej Klemencic
Belgrade Insight
Belgrade

Picasso's works in Belgrade. | Photo by Nenad Petrovic, Beta

Over 60 pieces of ceramics, 40 exhibition posters, four golden medals and three silver plates form the lesser-known opus of Pablo Picasso that is currently on display in Belgrade. The artefacts are presented under the title “Picasso at the Côte d’Azur”, where the great artist spent his final decades.

It is hard to imagine anything better suited to the tastes of Belgrade socialites than an exhibition of one of the biggest names in art, who everyone has heard of. 

Luckily for them, some artwork of great masters is not hard to obtain.  For example, some of the artwork Picasso worked on during his final twenty years. These pieces demonstrate that even the masters are allowed a bad day, or rather decade.

Invited by local patrons to stay and work in a tiny village on the French Riviera, Picasso used their ceramics factory for realising what he believed was his hidden talent – working with clay rather than just painting. You can see how wrong he was if you go and see the exhibition located at the Beko building below Kalemegdan, overlooking the city zoo.

Upon entering, I was asked without much ado and even less charm by a security officer if I had an invitation. I said yes, in my inbox. But he was quite persistent and would not let me in. This is the first time in Belgrade I have witnessed such measures, which are quite commonplace in New York or London.

Perhaps some of the hype is due to the fact that this is the first time in 20 years that Belgraders have been able to see an exhibition of Picasso’s work.

Almost an hour and a half after the opening, the large hall made of black curtains was still packed with some 300 people for whom a small band was playing live. Upon passing through the entrance hallway, people had to stop and wait for a queue of people posing for a photographer in front of a black-and-white portrait of Pablo Picasso with a toreador hat, smoking a cigarette. This, I was told, was the gift from the organisers to each of the visitors. After all, who doesn’t want to have a portrait with a smoking Picasso?

One of Picasso's works exhibited in Belgrade. | Photo by Nenad Petrovic, Beta

You can easily miss the text that introduces the exhibition, which is to your right after you enter the exhibition space. The text is condensed and, unusually for Belgrade, bilingual, with a decent English translation. However the white letters, despite their size, are almost unnoticeable on the large black wall.

Following are some posters from Picasso exhibitions of the 1970s. Two clay-like sculptures, which are the first ceramics artefacts you will see, look almost black-and-white and are completely consumed by the backdrop of black walls and white letters. Between the sculptures on the wall boldly stands Picasso’s poster for the Yugoslav partisan film “The Battle of Neretva”. 

Ceramic pieces on the right hand-side are mainly pots with animal and human faces and shapes. Pots in glass vitrines on plinths are of such bad quality that you could not in a million years fathom that they came from the imagination of one of the most vivacious artistic minds of all time.

Despite some artefacts being less bad than others, there are none which are impressive.

Aside from posters which Picasso did for his local exhibitions, many of which are excellent, two square-shaped ceramics “Cubist Face” and “Y-shaped Face” also show a glimmer of Picasso’s brilliance. Next to these pieces are some quotations on the wall, but with no name attributed to them.

That portion of the exhibition was occupied by the band for most of the evening, making it impossible for visitors to approach some displays.

As you exit the exhibition there is a stand where many, I am sure, will be delighted to buy calendars with Toulouse-Lautrec reproductions or postcards of some of the most popular paintings from world museums.

The organisers, who last year presented a large-scale exhibition of Dalí’s work in Belgrade that attracted 25,000 people, charge 450 dinars (€4.5) for the ticket for “Picasso at the Côte d’Azur”. The exhibition is open daily, except Mondays, from 10am to 8pm. It runs until April 15th.

As with Dalí, the exhibition has been prepared in partnership with Slovenian and Croatian companies, so if you missed it at Bled and think you are likely to miss it in Belgrade, you can see it in Dubrovnik from May 1st.

Going as far as that might be too much even for Picasso’s biggest fans, whose most significant impression from the Belgrade exhibition is likely to be the artist’s photo at the entrance.

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