image of Pablo Picasso in East and West Germany | Arts | DW

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Picasso (1881-1973) is still a popular artist today, 48 years after his death. Just in May, one of his works, Woman sitting by a window, was sold for 103.4 million dollars (88.2 million euros).

In 2015, the artist’s most expensive painting to date, The women of Algiers, changed hands for 179.4 million dollars (153 million euros).

Beyond the fact that Picasso’s works are always in demand, apparently everything has been said and written about the influential artist and sculptor of the 20th century, whose full name was Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz and Picasso.

Yet curators are still finding new angles to approach his works.

An exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne entitled Shared and Divided Picasso: The Artist and His Image in East and West Germany, looks at the very different interpretations of the artist by the two countries.

German President Theodor Heuss (second from left) at the Documenta art exhibition in Kassel, 1955

Different points of view

The Iron Curtain, which divided the world for more than four decades into irreconcilable political blocs – socialism and capitalism – certainly played a significant role in how Picasso was viewed in East and West.

In 1944, Picasso joined the French Communist Party. He called it “a logical step in my life, in my work.” He participated in campaigns and traveled to peace conferences, for which he also created posters.

Picasso painting Massacre in Korea

The exhibition features political works such as “Massacre in Korea”

He created political works like The Charnier, which depicts the horrors of the Nazi regime, or Massacre in Korea, on American war crimes. One of his most famous paintings is also an anti-war work: Guernica, named after the Basque city bombed by German planes. His series of murals War and peace were designed for a chapel in the communist-ruled village of Vallauris, in southern France, with the aim of creating a “Temple of Peace”.

Picasso also took on commissions like painting Josef Stalin on his birthday or sketching Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Stalin and peace?

But can a portrait of Stalin be reconciled with a Temple of Peace?

“In the post-war world, yes,” said Cologne curator Julia Friedrich, “at least for Picasso and the other Communists.

Many artists identified at this time with the socialist movement for peace, of which Picasso created the ultimate motif: the dove.

A painting of a dove by Picasso

Picasso’s doves were popular motifs in East Germany

Picasso’s friend, the poet Louis Aragon, had chosen his Dove lithograph to illustrate the 1949 Paris Peace Congress poster.

The painter, who even as a child made sketches of his father’s doves, continued to create variations of the bird thereafter.

His doves were particularly popular in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR). For example, Picasso’s drawings appeared on posters of peace movements and in textbooks.

As curator Friedrich speculates, they were “certainly more popular and perhaps even more widely circulated than the official national emblem of East Germany, the hammer and compass surrounded by a rye crown.”

Even though the artist was considered a model Communist activist, there were hardly any exhibitions of Picasso in the early years of the GDR. His anti-realistic style was rejected by the East German authorities, as the masses were supposed to recognize themselves in art.

A cotton scarf designed by Picasso in the effigy of a dove

A printed cotton scarf designed by Picasso for the World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace in East Berlin in 1951

The political artist – hidden

The approach was completely different in the West.

Picasso was also highly respected in West Germany, but here he was promoted as a pillar of contemporary art. All kinds of exhibitions presented him as a revival of art and revered him as a charismatic genius.

Picasso's 'Guernica', a painting showing abstract representations of injured men and women

“Guernica” comments on crimes committed by German and Italian troops during the Spanish Civil War

In 1955, his Guernica was exhibited at the Munich art museum Haus der Kunst, but the Foreign Ministry in Berlin has warned curators against the work’s “political leanings”.

The political Picasso, says Cologne curator Friedrich, was largely hidden in the West.

Picasso shared and divided is on display at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne until January 30, 2022.

This article was translated from German.


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