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Installation view. Photo: Paris Tavitian. © Museum of Cycladic Art.

ATHENS.- The Museum of Cycladic Art is organizing a rare and original exhibition entitled Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay where ceramics and drawings by Picasso interact with ancient artefacts, as part of its Divine Dialogues exhibition series. Curated by Professor Nikolaos C. Stampolidis, Director of the Museum of Cycladic Art, and art historian Olivier Berggruen, the exhibition will last from 20 June to 20 October 2019. 

Sixty-eight rare ceramics and drawings by Picasso, featuring birds, animals, sea creatures, humans, and mythological beasts (centaurs, the Minotaur) or inspired by ancient drama and comedies, converse thematically for the first time with sixty seven ancient works, creating another Divine Dialogue between Greek antiquity and modern art. 

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Left: Pablo Picasso, Woman in Blue Dress (Valori, 1947 - 1948). Right: Pablo Picasso, Women (ceramic studies)Photo: Paris Tavitian. © Museum of Cycladic Art

Picasso’s compositions—ceramics and drawings created between the 1920s and 1960s—come from foreign foundations, museums, and collections, including Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA), Musée National Picasso – Paris, Musée Picasso Antibes, Museo Picasso Μálaga, Museum Berggruen (Berlin) and private collections. The antiquities come from 15 Greek museums and collections, namely the National Archaeological Museum, the Archaeological Museums of the Ancient Agora, Agios Nikolaos, Chania, Chora (Messenia), Delos, Eretria, Herakleion, Marathon, Paros, Patras, Thebes, the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Alpha Bank Numismatic Collection and the Cyprus Museum. They include sculptures, ceramics and bronze artefacts dating from Prehistory (from c. 3200 BC) to the Late Roman period (to the mid-third century AD). 

Among the most interesting “pairs” presented in this exhibition, which is organized with the support of the Musée National Picasso – Paris and the “Picasso Méditerranée” project, are: the white clay Centaur with incised and slip-painted decoration, which Picasso created at Vallauris on 3 January 1953, conversing here with the unique tenth-century BC Proto-Geometric Centaur figurine from Lefkandi in Euboea and a sixth-century BC Cypro-Archaic Centaur. Or Picasso’s Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl by the Sea (Boisgeloup, 22 September 1934), paired with the Κilling of the Minotaur by Theseus on a Late Classical Red Figure calyx krater (340–330 BC) from the National Archaeological Museum or the Torso of a Minotaur statue, a Roman copy of an Early Classical prototype. 

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Left: Pablo Picasso, Woman, Vallauris, 1949. White clay made in the hand and on the wheel, painted in decoration 43 x 18 x 10 cm. © Madrid, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. Dexia: Marble statuette of Aphrodite, Roman times. Athens, Museum of Ancient Agora © Ministry of Culture of the City of Athens. 

Unlike his unique paintings, the great twentieth-century artist’s drawings and ceramics are little known to the wider public. These are closely related to antiquity, inspired by the Creto-Mycenaean, Greek, and ancient Mediterranean civilizations in general. This exhibition reveals a world the artist carried within himself. It showcases antiquities that he might have seen in the ancient lands of the Mediterranean, but also in European museums, in the books he read, or during his encounters with Christian Zervos and Jean Cocteau. 

Throughout his long and productive career, Picasso consulted a wide variety of sources, adapting and transforming them relentlessly. The Classical tradition provided the Spanish master with a vocabulary of endless possibilities to be manipulated and modified. Prominent among these sources was ancient Greece, for it created an enduring mythology as well as a fertile iconography. From the time he copied antique plaster casts in his youth, Picasso was seduced by many themes derived from Greek mythology, drawn by their amplification of the mundane or their persistent aspiration to highlight humanity’s conflicting impulses. The Minotaur, for example, this Dionysian creature, half-beast, half-human, symbolized the dark regions of the psyche, becoming a telling symbol of the irrational forces of war.  

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Left: Progressive side projects. Pre-Palatial Period, circa 2400 - 2200 BC. Right: Pablo Picasso, Bird (Vallauris, 1947 - 48)Photo: Paris Tavitian. © Museum of Cycladic Art

Another, more benign vision of Greece emerged as well, one in which the ancient themes and stories lead to an idealized vision, a timeless Arcadia, which Picasso developed in sculptures and ceramics after the war. Yet, these works, unlike some earlier ones, are devoid of weighty associations with Greek myth. Rather, Picasso invented a fictitious or imagined antiquity. In the small village of Vallauris in the late 1940s and 1950s, he developed an extraordinary body of ceramics, objects that give us a vague idea of a mythical past, imbued with timeless and relevant imagery in the form of fauns, birds, musicians, etc. 

The element that binds both ceramics, old and new, and Picasso’s illustrations derived from the antique (the Three Graces or Aristophanes’s Lysistrata) has to do with form and design, and not just iconography. Of particular relevance is the line, whether in drawings from the 1920s and 1930s or the lines traced on ceramics and reminiscent of Attic Red Figure vases, for example. «Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay» exhibition demonstrates the force of Picasso’s imaginary, yet strongly felt Antiquity and the lasting spell that objects from the past cast on us. 

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Left: Pablo Picasso, Women (ceramics studies), Golf - Zuan, 1947. Right: Kernolkani, Mycenaean period, 12th c. B.CPhoto: Paris Tavitian. © Museum of Cycladic Art

Rather than follow a chronological order, the exhibition is divided into the following thematic sections: 

Introduction 
The Line of Beauty – The Three Graces 
Line and Lights in Space 
Lysistrata 
Arcadia 
Dionysus 
The Centaur 
The Bull 
Minotaur.

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Left: Pablo Picasso, The Owl (Vallauris, 1952). Right: Owl owl, Oriental period, 7th c. B.C. Photo: Paris Tavitian. © Museum of Cycladic Art

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Left: Statue of Panos, Hellenistic period, 2nd c. B.C. Right: Pablo Picasso, Sitting Pistol (Vallauris, 1950)Photo: Paris Tavitian. © Museum of Cycladic Art

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Upper: Pablo Picasso, Dancers, Cannes, February 1956. Prototype of white clay, painted with glass and glass decoration, accentuated with paraffin and oxides 25,5 × 25,5 × 3 cm © Madrid, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. Lower: Male Dance Dummy, Neopalatric Period (MM IIIB / YM IA) approx. 1650 - 1550 BC. 17,5 cm, ΔΒ 15 cm. Kamilari Tholos tomb. Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, no. euro. W 15073. © Hyppo / Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

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Clay red-panel with fish show, 350-340 BC, Athens Museum of Cycladic Art.

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Pablo Picasso. Three fish and lemon slice, Cannes, April 15, 1957, plate wheels, red clay, written by coating decoration, partially enamelled, diam. 42 cm. Fundacion Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid © FABA Photo: Hugard & Vanoverschelde Photography © Succession Picasso 2019

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Cave dove, 5th c. B.C., Athens, Museum of Cycladic Art

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Pablo Picasso, Colombe, 1954, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid © Succession Picasso 2019. Photo: © FABA Marc Domage.

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Bull-shaped rhinoceros in the shape of a bullhead. Knossos, c. 1450-1375 BC © Hyppo / Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. Photograph: Ioannis Papadakis-Ploumidis

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Pablo Picasso, Bull's Head, Vallauris, 12 July 1950. Red hand-made clay, engraved decoration9.6 x 6 x 6.5 cm. Madrid, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte © FABA. Photo: Marc Domage © Succession Picasso 2019