‘Stirring up knowledge for a new look at art and cultural heritage’

Pablo Picasso, Grand Nu au fauteuil rouge (Groot naakt op een rode stoel), 1929, Musée National Picasso, Parijs © Succession Picasso 2017 Pablo Picasso, Grand Nu au fauteuil rouge (Groot naakt op een rode stoel), 1929, Musée National Picasso, Parijs © Succession Picasso 2017

A master like Picasso? Music for the millions is what everyone soon thinks of then, director Benno Tempel of the Gemeentemuseum The Hague says, but make no mistake. The exhibition González, Picasso and friends, that the Gemeentemuseum organised with international partners such as the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, certainly mobilized many enthusiasts and curious art viewers, but it wasn’t a blockbuster. That, according to Tempel, should never be the single goal. ‘Museums share favourites with the public, but doing research and making discoveries is at least as important. Stirring up knowledge for a new look at art and cultural heritage, that is also what it’s about. A fresh perspective reveals new connections. Also when it involves the greatest names. Financing research like that is difficult on your own, especially when it extends across borders. The grant from the Mondriaan Fund contributes to current perspectives.’

González, Picasso and friends brought out the collaboration between the two artists and the circle of sculptors around them, especially in the making of metal sculptures. The friendship was first highlighted at this exhibition. But the exhibition itself was also the outcome of intense cooperation. ‘It was a special joining of knowledge and information,’ according to Tempel. ‘With that, we followed up on our earlier cooperation with the Reina Sofia in Madrid for the exhibition about Constant and his models for the utopian city of New Babylon. The continuity of this international cooperation yields rich rewards. In the near future, we will delve into the oeuvre of artist Paul Thek, and in this case, too, the network of knowledge, including our connection with the Reina Sofia that has previously focused on Thek, is tremendously fruitful. In doing this, we place an emphasis on sculpture, partly also as a correction. Painting has always been dominant and maybe still is, when you look at the audience numbers.’

‘Space for freely raising questions, expanding knowledge, and exhibiting the results of research’

Tempel: ‘at the Gemeentemuseum, we see time and again how rewarding it is when you can bring together expertise with international partners, reinforce each other, and also stimulate each other in the sense that it yields surprising insights. That really goes beyond obtaining loans from museums abroad and presenting those in a nice context. Apart from the Reina Sofia in Madrid, this research on Picasso and González also involved the Musée Picasso and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the IVAM in Valencia, which is the centre of knowledge concerning González. The Gemeentemuseum The Hague formed neutral territory, as it were, for freely raising questions that would perhaps not be as easily addressed by institutes that are specialized in individual artists. Here we had space for expanding the network and for exhibiting the research results.’

Julio González, Homme Cactus II (Cactus Man II), 1939-1964

Julio González, Homme Cactus II (Cactus Man II), 1939-1964

González, who started as a metal worker in his father’s workshop, and learned how to weld in the Renault factory, shared his skills with Picasso; Picasso, in turn, passed on his passion for experimentation to González. That reciprocity was the starting point for the exhibition, in which González got the revaluation he deserves: from craftsman to one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century, according to Tempel. The metal ‘cactus figures’ with wide-open mouths that González made in 1939, after general Franco seized power in Spain, are considered a powerful symbol for resistance and autonomy. ‘It is about time that this material, iron, stops being a murder weapon or a simple tool of mechanized science,’ according to González. ‘Nowadays the door is wide open so that this material may penetrate the domain of art and so that it may be hammered and forged by peaceful artists’ hands.’

The new perspectives and outcomes of the research carried out by experts from Paris, Madrid, Valencia and The Hague into the work of González, Picasso and friends are set down in the publication accompanying the exhibition, which includes texts by Tomás Llorens, Marilyn McCully and Laura Stamps.