Fashion designer Paul Smith presents contemporary art alongside Picasso classics for a new museum exhibition in Paris.


At the Picasso Museum in Paris, the esteemed designer’s guests offer a fun, colorful interpretation of the artist’s legacy.

Cécile Debray, Curator and President of the Picasso Museum in Paris, with Sir Paul Smith, Guest Arts Director. Photo: © Vinciane Lebrun/Vyez-Vous and Succession Picasso 2023.

In the year In the 50 years since Picasso’s death in 1973, his profound influence on modern art and culture has shown no sign of abating, continuing to be reinvented in the 21st century. Many stages of the practice are reimagined in a new exhibition at the Picasso Museum in Paris, assembled with the help of British fashion designer Paul Smith, who served as guest artistic director.

“Picasso Celebration” bids farewell to the white cube we’re all used to seeing modern art in, instead a collection of newly designed galleries that are glitzy but fun. Smith noted a special need to appeal to a younger audience.

Pablo Picasso, Paulo as Harlequin (1924), hangs in the “Picasso” exhibition in collaboration with Paul Smith at the Picasso Museum in Paris. Photo: © Vinciane Lebrun/Vyez-Vous and Succession Picasso 2023.

At the beginning of the survey, for example, Picasso’s obsession with the pantomime characters Harlequin and Pierrot in two large oil paintings and a few paintings came to life as colorful figures from the painting rose from the canvas. And sprinkled on the adjacent walls.

Like these jazzy touches, he puts Picasso’s history in chronological order before examining his most famous works from the Blue Age and Cubism. Women of Avignon (1907) and Guernica (1937) – so really fresh and easy to engage with.

Installation view of “Honor Picasso” in collaboration with Paul Smith at the Picasso Museum in Paris. Photo: © Vinciane Lebrun/Vyez-Vous and Succession Picasso 2023.

Among these earlier works, however, are strongly inspired by Picasso or include pieces by living artists interested in similar themes. An example can be found in a room dedicated to ethnographic objects of African and Oceanic origin that Picasso collected from Paris markets, a selection of which is included in the exhibition. Picasso was seeking to break out of Western culture, but his use of objects today is challenged by a post-colonial critical lens.

Embracing more contemporary perspectives, the museum has curated these items alongside. The landscapes of my childhood are remembered. (2015), a triptych of collages by Nigerian artist Obi Okigbo. The artist’s use of traditional Igbo masks and carvings is related to her exploration of a local culture known as the Mbari system.

Elsewhere, a powerful 1997 work by Congolese artist Cheri Samba is a direct response to Picasso’s thorn legacy. His Picasso, standing for the famous Western artist, looks greedily at the African continent and its culture, represented here by a traditional mask. The painting celebrates the many African artists whose work has been sanctified, produced and consumed without proper representation in Western museums.

Dear Samba When there was nothing… Africa remained an idea. (1997) Photo: © Florian Kleinefenn, courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A.

Such additions are part of a broader strategy by the museum to continue to repackage Picasso’s work for new generations. The result is that even those already familiar with the gems of this collection can expect to keep discovering new things.

Nothing is more contemporary than drawing connections between modern and contemporary art movements and other art forms. In recent years, many luxury and high fashion brands have been clamoring to tie up with the world’s favorite artists, including Louis Vuitton’s much-discussed partnership with Yayoi Kusama.

Installation view of “Honor Picasso” in collaboration with Paul Smith at the Picasso Museum in Paris. Photo: © Vinciane Lebrun/Vyez-Vous and Succession Picasso 2023.

Smith himself is represented by a multicolored carpet that leads visitors from the second floor to the third floor. Otherwise, the esteemed designer’s vision is communicated through color schemes that are almost completely neutral.

“I honestly have little academic knowledge of Picasso, so the project is about visual and spontaneous associations,” he told the museum’s director, Cecile Debray, and chief curator, Joanne Snrecht, in an exhibition catalog interview. “I’m a very visual person, so I always go back to approaching things visually.”

“In a way, I’m shielding myself from criticism from some Picasso scholars who think this exhibition is somehow disrespectful.

Delicately capturing the complex public figure, this new exhibition leaves us in little doubt that Picasso’s influence will remain strong for at least 50 years to come.

“Celebrating Picasso: The Collection in a New Light!” by Paul Smith’s Art Guide. It runs until August 27, 2023.

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