On Sunday I went to see the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at Tate Britain. On that sunny Sunday when I could have been basking in a busy park, I chose to go to the Tate because I was sure that Picasso’s genius would be able to lift my spirits.
It is a difficult exhibition because I want to love it but can’t. It is true that the British artists on show seem weaker, muted, and compositionally messy, when held up in the light of Picasso’s bravado, challenge and perfect balance. The most successful example of influence and comparison comes from David Hockney’s series of prints which pay homage to Picasso’s towering legacy without trying to imitate him.
There isn’t very much Picasso to see and this is only testament to Britain’s, and in particular the Tate’s, poor history of acquisitions. Most of the works here originate from private collectors such as Roland Penrose who championed the work of Picasso while the Tate continued to snub him. There is a sense of the exhibition’s lack. What the Henry Moore room really needs is more of Picasso’s heavy, playful sculptures in order to offer its audience something fresh. I also suspect that it isn’t fair to tackle Guernica when the Reina Sofia would only agree to give you a few sketches and a laminate reproduction.
The one joy was Marie Therese Walter. I had never seen any paintings of Picasso’s teenage lover and their beach-drift affair. Her voraciously painted pink curves were the pure visual pleasure I was seeking to cheer myself up.