Hal Foster at Artforum:
“PICASSO SCULPTURE” is both amazing and appalling. With 141 objects in eleven galleries, the presentation is lucid, stately, almost grand, and the work is inventive in the extreme. Yet there are times when all this creativity betrays a manic energy—I can’t help myself!—as well as an aggressive defiance: I can trump anyone! What else, you say, is new about Picasso?
The master made circa seven hundred objects, which is a lot, but not when compared with roughly forty-five hundred paintings. As the curators Ann Temkin and Anne Umland demonstrate, his engagement with sculpture was episodic: He worked intensely in the medium, then put it aside, and when he came back to it, he often featured a new set of materials, forms, and structures. For a long time, Picasso was reluctant to show his sculpture, and he liked to keep it close by. Why? Was it especially important to him, somehow intimate, even “talismanic” (as the curators suggest), or was he uncertain about its status (which can be improvisatory), or did he feel both things at once?1 Throughout the exhibition, it is difficult to distinguish clearly between research and resolution, minor and major (sometimes a tentative experiment in a new material appears later as a confident statement). Picasso, like Matisse, frequently turned to sculpture to address a problem in painting or to elaborate on an idea, a device, or just a whimsy first developed in two dimensions.
Like his first paintings, his first sculptures in bronze are emulative, sub-Rodin and Rosso, and this is also true of the rough figurines in wood he produced after the Gauguin retrospective in Paris in 1906. Picasso acquired a few Iberian sculptures in early 1907, and his fabled encounter with African and Oceanic art in the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro, which prompted him to revise Les demoiselles d’Avignondramatically, occurred in May or June of that year; this interest in the archaic and the primitive is manifest in his sculpture no less than in his painting.