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Je suis le cahier: THE SKETCHBOOKS OF PICASSO edited by Arnold B. Glimcher and Marc Glimcher (Atlantic Monthly; $65; 360 pp.)

December 07, 1986|Nan Rosenthal | Nan Rosenthal is Curator of 20th Century Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and

The first extensive publication on the subject of Picasso's extraordinary and little-known visual diaries, these variously bound sketchbooks of different sizes contain some 7,000 pencil, ink, charcoal, crayon, ink marker, collage, and watercolor drawings, as well as revealing notations about Picasso's acquaintances and some manuscript pages.

As this book informs us, between 1894, when he was 13, and 1967, six years before his death at the age of 92, Picasso filled at least 175 of these sketchbooks, which, characteristically, he dated carefully. He kept almost all of them. Most now belong to his living children, Maya, Claude, and Paloma, and to his living grandchildren, Marina and Bernard. Others are in the collection of the Musee Picasso in Paris. A few were dismantled and sold as separate drawings during Picasso's lifetime and with his permission.

The book "Je suis le cahier" was created to accompany the fascinating and visually stunning exhibition of the same title mounted by the Pace Gallery in New York last summer to celebrate its 25th year in business. (Recently Pace has been the American dealer through which Claude, Paloma, and Bernard have annually sold a limited number of the works by Picasso that they inherited.) The Pace summer exhibition consisted of 45 of the sketchbooks, two belonging to Marina, most loaned by Claude, Paloma, and Bernard. None had been previously exhibited. This show is now touring North American and European museums and opens Dec. 16 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Not only should this exhibition not be missed, it should be returned to again and again. One reason is that those sketchbooks which cannot be safely disassembled and displayed as separate sheets will be turned on a regular basis in the course of the six weeks that the show is on view.

The book was edited by the organizers of the exhibition: Arnold Glimcher, director of the Pace Gallery, who wrote the preface, and his son, Marc. It contains essays by six American art historians who have published extensively on Picasso: E.A. Carmean, Robert Rosenblum, Theodore Reff, Rosalind E. Krauss, Sam Hunter, and Gert Schiff. Each wrote on one particular notebook. The book reproduces these six sketchbooks in full, along with useful reproductions of the paintings, drawings, collages, and stage sets to which the sketchbook pages discussed in each essay closely relate. These ancillary reproductions are aligned very near the relevant text, so arguments can be followed without a lot of flipping around.

Rosenblum's and Krauss' essays are particularly revealing, and Reff's addresses the interesting matter of Picasso's shuttling, apparently daily, between the sign language of synthetic Cubism and meticulously shaded naturalism, as if to demonstrate to himself, in the privacy of the sketchbooks, that conventions of illustrating a subject are just that, a system of representation chosen by the artist, not a kind of realism ordained by the Italian Renaissance.

Rosenblum discovers notations in one of the "Demoiselles d'Avignon" sketchbooks that suggest Picasso may have been stimulated to make his famous painting of the interior of a bordello by Degas' monotypes on the same subject. Krauss argues that biographically loaded interpretations of Picasso's work are problematic. She does this by proposing that his images in 1926, of his voluptuous young mistress, Marie Therese Walter, precede the date that he met her; that is, that his visual art preceded his life, and that therefore biographical readings are all wet. Yet these sketchbook pages and Krauss' proposal make one wonder, in turn, if Picasso did not meet this teen-age model and friend a year or two before we have been told that he did. Paintings of 1925 suggest that this is possible, and that her mere 15 years then made her best unmentioned for a while.

In addition to the historians' essays, the book has brief reminiscences by Claude Picasso and by his and Paloma's mother, the painter Francoise Gilot, who lived with Picasso between 1943 and 1953 and wrote intelligently about the experience. The book also contains over 100 reproductions chosen from a chronological span of some of the other sketchbooks, which are not reproduced in full. Finally, it has a catalogue of the 175 known sketchbooks, with one reproduction of a drawing from each of these, to suggest that sketchbook's predominant contents.

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