In 1942, artist John Graham organized an exhibition in New York that was in many ways the precursor to Picasso and American Art. Just as the Walker’s show pairs works by important American artists with the Picasso pieces that inspired them, Graham’s juxtaposed paintings by New York artists of the day with those by their Parisian contemporaries. A few works by Picasso were shipped across the Atlantic for the occasion, including Woman in an Armchair (Two Profiles), a distorted female figure with classical profiles superimposed over her as if they were shadows cast by a window across the room. This unique painting is now in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), which has generously agreed to loan it to the Walker, along with another work by Picasso, for the current exhibition.
Picasso and American Art offers a rare opportunity to see the painting Woman in an Armchair (Two Profiles) in the context of the artists it influenced, such as Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock, all of whom were featured in the 1942 Graham show. Pollock in particular began to respond to the piece in his own artwork. The exhibition includes a number of his early paintings that resulted from experiments using similar profiles with gaping mouths and twisted faces, further abstracted into linear motifs.
Graham’s Queen of Hearts, also on view in the Walker galleries, likewise shares an affinity with Woman in an Armchair in its attention to linear geometric patterns. But Graham was more profoundly influenced earlier in his career by Picasso’s neoclassical paintings, in which thick sculptural figures in leisurely poses recall the ideals and forms of ancient Greek and Roman art. In Picasso and American Art, Graham’s portrait of a jester, Harlequin in Grey, is grouped with Picasso’s Le Fou, a related bronze sculpture from the Walker’s collection, and a second Picasso painting on loan from the MIA from his neoclassical period, Woman by the Sea.
The inclusion of artworks from the MIA collection in a Walker exhibition is part of the ongoing relationship between the Minneapolis institutions that involves sharing important pieces for public shows. Another recent example includes the Walker’s loan of The Large Blue Horses, a painting by Franz Marc, which is currently on display at the MIA.
—Rachel Hooper, Curatorial Fellow, Visual Arts