Picasso, the painter who changed sculpture forever

Woman’s Head (Fernande) 1909, Bronze

To attend the Picasso Sculpture Exhibit at MoMA is to witness the secret workings of a relentless creative mind. Never schooled in sculpture, he was free to explore its potential, without fear of failure. Coupled with his sense of playfulness and rebellious outlook, he worked in the gap between painting and sculpture. He made no assumptions about what a sculpture could be, and he didn’t let convention get in his way. Richard Serra said, “Picasso seems to be actually more inventive in sculpture than in painting.” What few realize is that the greatest painter of the 20th century was also the greatest sculptor of the 20th century. To see this show is to know the canon other serious sculptors must compare themselves.

Picasso once famously said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” and the artist he stole the most from was Cezanne, a painter who not only painted what he saw, he painted how he saw. Cezanne eschewed staining, “sculpting” his work with thick brushstrokes, and with multiple perspectives, he reduced his pictorial elements to cubes, cones, and cylinders. From this starting point, Picasso created Analytical Cubism. Picasso took Cezanne at his word, and he painted cubes that fractured the picture plane, creating a breathing space for shapes to float in and out. Facilitated by the freedom this structure offered him, he investigated multiple views of perception. Picasso painted some of his most provocative works of art at this time, and propitiously, he continued to work in sculpture.

The first room in the show shows how quickly Picasso progressed in his early 1903 to 1909 period. From a sentimental bust of a bronze harlequin to a primitive wood sculpture of a nude, you are immediately led to his breakthrough work, Woman’s Head 1909. Modeled out of clay, and then cast in bronze, Woman’s Head, portrays his lover, Fernande, from multiple viewpoints, as partly buried cubes emerge from a block of clay. Picasso tries to release his cubes and make them float, but traditional sculptural processes hold him back. Unlike his paintings, there isn’t any air in this work, which limited his potential for spatial exploration. Multiple viewpoints stuck in the mud of the clay, lack clarification. Luckily, his painting process offered a solution to his predicament.




Still life with Guitar. Variant state Paris, assembled before November 15, 1913, Subsequently preserved by the artist Paperboard, paper, string, and painted wire installed with cut cardboard box

While working on his still life paintings, Picasso would use sketches, or maquettes, as the reference for his work. One of these sketches was a three-dimensional cutout of a guitar, handmade of paperboard, paper, string and painted wire, glued together. A photo of it exists as a centerpiece in a three-dimensional tableau made of paper cutouts. Once finished, Picasso had an insight. Why couldn’t the sketch stand alone and be the sculpture? That way, it would free up the negative space of his work allowing shapes to float, as they did in his paintings, allowing multiple viewpoints to mesh with each other. This bold move demonstrated a rejection of the lofty subject matter of sculpture. This wasn’t a statue of a goddess, a general on a horse, or even his mistress. It was a sculpture of an inanimate object. Of a guitar! Then in 1916, Picasso folded up the paper guitar and put it away in a box. It remained there for 64 years until the MoMA acquired and displayed it again, soon after the artist’s death. Fortunately, before mothballing the paper sculpture, Picasso decided to make a more permanent version of it in 1914.



Guitar, Paris, after mid-January 1914 Ferrous sheet metal and wire

Guitar 1914 wasn’t made from clay, wood, or marble. It was made with metal. It wasn’t carved, chiseled, or molded. It was constructed. It even had lines (the strings were made of wires). It hung on a wall. What was it then? With Guitar, Picasso resolved a conflict between painting and sculpture by introducing a strange hybrid. Some called it pictorial sculpture.

Here, Picasso answers ‘why’ questions. Why is sculpture always about the human form, when it could be of an inanimate object? Why can’t it be assembled, when you can construct it out of metal? Why does it have to be on a pedestal, when it can hang on a wall? Why does sculpture have to be so serious, when it could be fun? By challenging sculpture’s very nature, Picasso brought a new energy to the medium. The poet Andre Salmon observed, “We were delivered from painting and sculpture, liberated from the imbecilic tyranny of genres.” Guitar 1914 set the stage for the greatest sculptural exploration and innovation of the 20th century.


Still Life, 1914, painted pine and poplar, nails, and upholstery fringe. About 12 inches high.

Still Life, 1914 is the first sculpture that made fun of sculpture. Instead of carving, he paints pine and poplar wood and nails them together. Although still life as a genre is within the purview of painting, Picasso boldly makes it the subject of sculpture. By portraying a workman’s lunch, he offers a sardonic commentary on the ‘high’ ambitions of ‘Art’. (A Dutch Master, 17th century feast, it isn’t.) Haphazard sawn wood, machined and hand carved, refute the journeyman’s aesthetic of refinement. Further blending painting and sculpture, he uses paint to distinguish the surface of the glass (glossy) and the rest of the tableaux (matte). The addition of tasseled upholstery fringe, a found object integrated into the piece, proffers another snub at the craftsmanship, giving the piece an air of insouciance and whimsy. This daring act, incorporating real objects into sculpture, unleashed a creative fervor that resonates to this day. But this is just the beginning for Picasso, and there are so many more rooms to go through.


Pablo Picasso. Figure. 1928

Picasso’s quest to have his sculpture breathe led to another breakthrough, Figure, 1928, a rejected study for the tomb of his friend Apollinaire. Once again, a painter’s perspective creates a new sculptural form, but, this time, using Surrealist imagery. Inspired by the strings in his guitar sculptures, he created a piece made entirely of welded wire. A contemporary art dealer declared it ‘drawing in space.' Sculpture as drawing, freed up the medium, allowing new avenues of creativity by using line and air for expression. Once again, Picasso’s disregard for the status quo showed the way for artists to use unorthodox materials and techniques.



Picasso's 'Bull's Head' Paris, spring 1942 Bronze, cast in 1943

Assembled out of a bicycle seat and handlebars, Bull’s Head evokes a smile. Bold simplicity and a good coupling of two disparate bicycle parts surprise with a depiction of a bull. But then, Picasso takes it a further step, as he casts the assemblage. Now, Picasso comes full circle with another desecration. After embracing the commonplace by incorporating it into his art, he now sanctifies it with bronze. The 19th century must have been rolling in its grave.


Chair Cannes, 1961. Painted sheet metal, Musée National Picasso–Paris.

What Figure 1928 did for the line, Chair Cannes did for shape. This kooky sculpture questioned the fundamental processes of its medium. First cut out of paper, folded, and then flattened out (at this stage Picasso said it looked like a chair run over by a steamroller), craftsmen then bent a single sheet of painted metal, based on the paper template, to create an art object. Made of only one part, he manipulated the material of the work itself, to create a complex piece without soldering or welding. Only gravity holds it together. Bent and turned planes create their own negative space. With a mundane object as subject and a simple shape as a sculptural form, with bending as process and gravity as glue, Guitar Cannes, advanced both the mental and visual gymnastics of Picasso’s art – not bad for an 80-year-old.


To tour this show is to explore the creative mind. How are new ideas formed? How does one find the confidence and courage to embrace them? Picasso shows the way with his unrelenting curiosity, reassessment of assumptions, and rejection of category norms. He asks big questions by challenging the opposing prejudices of painting and sculpture. His nonchalance enabled risk taking, with a take-or-leave-it attitude. What is the secret to Picasso’s prolific creativity? He had fun.


Thomas McManus is a writer, artist and professor at Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.

Picasso vs Sailor Jerry

We have been through the Picasso sculpture show at MoMA twice. It did not get better. Seemed careless and sloppy in both thought and in execution.  He did not stick a baby cake server on a pile of Playdough once, but 30 times over. Our artist friends enjoyed the "playfulness" or some such rot. They said he explored the exploding of imagery. We say 3d telephone doodles.

Let's compare:  Who had a tougher audience?

Picasso had to amuse laudenum addled bohemians lounging around Montmarte cafes as Nazi's paraded down the Champs Elysees.

Pablo Picasso

Picasso sculpture from MoMA.

Sailor Jerry created art for tough guys on shore leave, repairing from Pacific Rim battles with the Japanese. 

Sailor Jerry.

We know whose art we have on our walls ,Matey!

Elaine Sturtevant - Connoisseurship takes a beating

“What is this doing here?” asked my friend.

It was Jasper John’s “Target With Plaster Casts” and it was located at the end of a long hallway bordered with Andy Warhol Cow wallpaper.

We spent some time admiring it. But something was wrong here.

The painting was terribly lit and seemed to be haphazardly thrown into a group show on the first floor at MoMA. Upon examination, the painting’s side and the boxes on top with plaster casts were well constructed. But the painting itself looked in bad condition. The newspaper with wax on it was brittle and flaking off. The yellow was acidic. The surface was patchy.

Elaine Sturtevant’s “Target With Plaster Casts”

Jasper John’s “Target With Plaster Casts”

“Hey, wasn't that painter who fakes artist's work supposed to have a show around now?” he asked.

That's what you get for wandering into an exhibition without realizing whose it is. In our hurry we ignored the big sign out front. It read, “Elaine Sturtevant: Double Trouble”.

But in retrospect, we were lucky we didn’t realize it was her show. That way the magic of her work could cast its spell on us. We were perplexed, we questioned our judgement and more importantly, we were temporarily fooled.

Elaine Sturtevant isn’t a forger. She is more of a philosopher obsessed with epistemology and ethics. How can we really know something with our  senses only? Is it immoral to copy someone else’s work? I could see Immanuel Kant standing in front of these paintings with his head ready to explode.

Another sly twist to her work is that it challenges the pretentions of connoisseurship.

It reminds me of when Han van Meegeren fooled Hermann Goring. Goring purchased Meegeren's forgery, Christ with the Adulteress, thinking it was an original Vermeer. I could see Hermann fawning over the painting waxing poetic about the Sublime. Sturtevant fooled us too and make us feel a little sheepish. Don't get me wrong, feeling sheepish in this context was a good thing.

The show looks down at connoisseurship and mocks the authentic. How embarrassing is that?

Thomas McManus is a writer, artist and professor at Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.

Matisse and Brooklyn Joe

Big colors bouncing around at the Matisse Cut Outs exhibit at MoMA. This exhibit focussed on the paper shapes pinned to the walls of the hotels and studios he lived in France.

But what's this? A mermaid and a parrot? Look at the solid blue shapes on either side of the canvas.

Could it be possible that the Grand Master had seen the tattoo work of Brooklyn Joe Leiber? Preposterous? No, we say, very possible.  It's well known that Brooklyn Joe who, although never actually trod the pavement in Brooklyn, may have visited France or even more likely, one of his human canvasses did.

The images and fantasy spread widely with tattooed sailors walking through the ports o'call around the globe. It's a fact that no artist works in a vacuum. Matisse grew up around bolts of wildly patterned fabric in his parents textile business. This translated into his famous abstract pattern style of painting.  He most likely saw the stunning tattoo work on sailors while sitting amidst the leafy palms in outdoor cafes where as everyone knows, French artists hang out all day when not banging their many mistresses and girlfriends. More research to follow this exciting discovery.



Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Gauguin: Metamorphoses, shows Gauguin’s rare prints and how he developed them into his more famous paintings. Displayed were variations of his prints and sculptures. Gauguin frequently worked with other materials not just paint such as woodcarving, ceramics, monotypes and many more. The show presented his wooden sculptures, which he created while in Tahiti. These carved sculptures look very similar to African totems.


Gauguin used a range of mediums and techniques to create his pieces. His pieces capture a lot of movement also he embraced the finely textured surfaces, unintentional markings and use a lot of different colors in his paintings.  Gauguin created a dark and dreamy image of the South Pacific, where he spent the final 12 years of his life. A lot of his art was inspired by the environment and society. 


His art holds up well. For many artists today, Gauguin’s techniques inspire us to try his way of exaggerating and emphasizing color for dramatic effect.

March 8- June 8 2014 Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Gauguin: Metamorphoses (

The Epicenter of Un-Expressionism: N 40'45' by W 73' 58'

"Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It's very tiny - very tiny, content."

- Willem de Kooning

We love going to MOMA. What we love best is visiting the lonely and neglected paintings. They seem to need company. Particularly, if one is a work of art that completely changed the art world.

Meanwhile, at the Rene Magritte show on the 5th floor, one had to stand in line for an hour. Nonsense!

We walked down a floor to the Duchamp corner to see “Three Standard Stoppages”.

And here it is. Isolated. Ignored. We can’t believe it was painted in 1914. One of our group dropped to their knees crying out, “We are not worthy.” Alarmed tourists on their way to the Margritte show looked over “Why are these guys slobbering all over this old subway map painting? Should we call a guard?"

We start up a conversation with the piece. On closer examination we realize that a version of a Fauvist painting  (Villon or Duchamp?)  “Young Girl and Man in Spring” was painted over. Maybe there is a cross in the painting also. The old work is turned on its side, scraped down. Defaced. Two black bands frame it as if in a shroud.

Over this tomb Duchamp drops the neutron bomb of modernity. A diagram (what appears to be a golf course) is painted on the surface. Let's take a closer look. There is a grid drawn over the painting in pencil. We think they were lines tracing strings randomly thrown tossed on the canvas.

What gives? What’s the subject matter? Is this a metaphor for something? Or is it just decoration? What is this guy trying to express?

All of these questions are irrelevant.

You see this is the first work of art where an artist tried to un-express himself. In other words, it was created solely by chance, a methodology that subverts the usual modus operandi of painting. “Three Standard Stoppages” is to painting what quantum mechanics is to classical physics.

It is born in an era when science realized that God does play with dice.

“Three Standard Stoppages” is Part 2 of a trilogy. It is sandwiched between “Three Large Stoppages” and the “Large Glass”. This middle child’s offspring were named Process, Conceptual, Minimal and Pop Art. This is the painting Jasper Johns doesn’t want you to know about.

We complained to the curator that MOMA shouldn’t show paintings that are still wet. She just looked at us.

Tom McManus is a writer and artist in NYC.

Cars at MoMA

As you know, MoMA has one of the greatest and well-known collections of modern art in the world. Its recent exhibits include Hopper and O’Keefe’s best pieces. So we were surprised to learn that one of the pieces on exhibit was currently sitting at Lift Trucks. No, we didn’t find a Picasso on Ebay, but we do have a 1943 Ford truck before they were called “jeep”.  MoMA has a military 1950’s Willys-Overland Jeep. Essentially the same vehicle.

Most people are pleasantly surprised to hear that the MoMA has cars on exhibit. They have so many fantastic and unique pieces, why include something that we see and use every day? Sure, there are gems like the 1963 Jaguar E-type and a stunning red 1946 Cisitalia, but these you would expect to see at a car show, not an art museum. Even more puzzling is the inclusion of a 2002 Smart Car and a VW Beetle. Also, compared to the thousands of paintings and drawings, they have 6 cars in total.

According to the curator, Peter Reed, “Automobiles are among the most significant inventions of industrial civilization. Each of the six cars in MoMA’s collection is an innovative, influential design. Historically, aesthetics and speed have been primary concerns. Today, we are no less concerned with aesthetics but recognize other compelling issues in personal transportation including affordability and efficiency.” Cars are a part of everyday life, but we can still find art in them. Even a simple Honda Civic has elements of design to it; otherwise we would all be driving the same box on wheels. It’s amazing how many different styles of vehicles are on the road at once.

The jeep is the most unique piece of the group though. The whole exhibit shows how a car is about more than just getting from point A to B, but this car is designed for just that. While the Jaguar might have sleek curves, and the beetle possesses an iconic design, the Jeep is built for pure efficiency. Here you see a car literally made for war, where every inch of the car is built for the most practical and tactical reasons. Those iconic headlights? Made that way so they could be flipped around to see the engine when you are fixing the car in combat. That cool looking grill that you still see today wasn’t an artist’s design, it was the result of hundreds of tests to get the most efficient airflow to the engine.

We also have the same Jeep sitting at Lift Trucks Project right now. We saw it driving around town for years, and finally got the retired fire chief to sell it. It was sitting in a dusty old garage, complete with the manuals, shovels, and a replica gun attatchment. Be sure to stop by and check it out.

As with most good exhibits it makes you think. It makes you think about what you are driving next time you’re on the freeway. In the family SUV.  


Here are some photos of our Jeep, currently being restored:








Vote ‘yer Wallet, Matey!

We put Michael Mapes card right up there when the gift kiosk guy wasn’t looking. At the end of the elevators in MoMA. There, but for one brief shining moment with all the greats; De Kooning, Pollock and Picasso. And some lady who was perusing the rack, selected it. Right in front of us. I shit you not. See documentation of this in only slightly enhanced actual photos. She handed it to the cashier and was willing to pay $1.21 but the kiosk dude said ” This is not one of ours. You may have it”. She just beamed and stuffed it and the Warhol card in her purse. That’s got to be a boost!

So attention all artists! Get your exhibition cards and put them on the rack by the elevators at MoMA and see what happens. See if your work holds up. See if it gets selected over the old dead artist guys post cards.

Aye, democracy votes with it’s wallet. No truer said. Send your photos to us and we will post. What’s the worst that could happen? ” What are you in for? Non-sanctioned postcard rack placement.” Please. This would be a very fun Post headline and would get you even more desired publicity.

We like Mr. Mapes work also. Mr. Mapes work is stunning. He makes faces in boxes that seem to shimmer and move as look at them. Made up of tiny circles of color stuck on with insect display type pins in foamcore in a wood box. Some colors and details are inside little empty pill capsules but all this still registers really well as a realistic person in 3d as the deep areas like eye sockets are further back and something like a nose is further out. His postcard is for a show opening Saturday February 5th at the Parlor Gallery in Asbury Park.


The Rivington school, despite it’s expensive sounding name (it reminds me of a boarding school parents spend a fortune on to straighten out their “troubled” child), is not a typical school, in fact it’s not even educational. Granted, most art schools aren’t typical (or educational), but throw out the notions of RISD or Pace and instead think cheap booze and NYC clubs. As the artist FA-Q aptly stated, it was “a bunch of nuckleheads (sic) and wannabees” where “society’s outcasts would show up” (at least this guy is honest). The Rivington school started as an offshoot of the latino social club “No Se No”. It was a bar that had an open performance, everything from visual art, to singing, to hanging up a work on the walls. I know, I know, most open performance things are a complete joke (let me give you a hint not to attend any comedy open-mike nite anywhere). However from this movement stemmed some very famous and talented people, including Kevin Wendell (aka F-AQ), Ray Kelly, Taylor Mead, Phoebe Legere, and countless others.

Emperor's Clothes

Yogurt Lid

At the risk of being called a Philistine* or at best an ignorant art buffoon (again) herewith an opinion. The Gabriel Orozco show at MOMA, a glorious institution whose fine reputation has again been recently sullied by the idiotic show of Tim Burton's doodles, has now fallen prey to the Emperor's Clothes syndrome affecting all the contemporary showcases loosely called museums and overstuffed "important" Chelsea galleries. Any art student will roll his eyes and recite the John Cage mantra- 'art is everywhere' all you have to do is look for it.