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The Minotaur Without the Labyrinth : PICASSO Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington (Simon & Schuster: $22.95; 475 pp.)

June 12, 1988|Meryle Secrest | Secrest has written biographies about Romaine Brooks, Bernard Berenson, Kenneth Clark and Salvador Dali and is writing a life of Frank Lloyd Wright for Alfred A. Knopf.

This new study of Picasso's life raises the issue that continually confronts anyone evaluating a biography. To what extent are the author's conclusions based on a thorough and painstaking accumulation of all the evidence, judiciously assessed, and to what extent are they flighty, shallow, irresponsible, motivated by the desire to tell a racy story and hang the consequences?

Despite 40 pages of source notes and 17 of bibliography, Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington's "Picasso" appears to be largely a retelling of the artist's own unreliable descriptions of his life (many now discredited), anecdotes already published, and questionable new material from interviews. The problem of dealing with Picasso is, as all Picasso scholars know, that the artist's own immense archive containing, since he never threw anything away, everything from the most trivial to the most scandalous, has been inaccessible ever since his death. It is now locked up in the Musee Picasso in Paris, presumably by museum officials or the heirs (depending upon which story you believe), who have swallowed the key.

The loss to serious Picasso scholarship has been incalculable, and it is scandalous that the archive continues to be closed. Even as well-connected and knowledgeable a writer as John Richardson, the British art historian, who knew Picasso well, had the full cooperation of Picasso's widow, and whose own biography of Picasso, due out next year, promises to be a major publishing event, was denied access. The main source of information being closed to all, it appears that this author's most important single source of new information about Picasso comes from Francoise Gilot. The woman who lived with Picasso for 10 years and bore him two children, has already published her own detailed study of that relationship, "Life With Picasso" (1964).

Since Mlle. Gilot has, in the past, presented herself somewhat as St. Georgia tackling the dragon, one would not expect her new information about Picasso to be particularly friendly. Huffington does not cite Gilot directly for her assertion--of which she makes much in the latter part of her book--that Picasso had a "likely" homosexual relationship with a young Gypsy. An interview with Gilot, however, is her only citation of a source not previously published for this period in Picasso's life. And Gilot is directly cited for Huffington's rather operatic account of the Gypsy's leavetaking from the young Picasso: "He drew his knife and cried out with the same passion that Patroclus felt for Achilles many centuries and cultures before: 'I love you too much. I must go away. Otherwise I'll have to kill you because you are not a Gypsy.' " Earlier we have been told that this Gypsy taught Picasso "the meaning of the random chirping of the birds and the faraway movement of the stars, and how to forge an alliance with nature, animals, trees and the invisible." Let us hope this passage does not catch the eye of another Spanish artist, Salvador Dali, who once wiped

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'Picasso: Creator and Destroyer'

Continued From First Page the floor with Federico Garcia Lorca's similarly colored passages dealing with dark yearnings for Gypsy blood.

Pity the poor author, in fact. One sees her at her best once she has hit a passage in which she is free to tell a story, about Picasso's early wanderings, his youthful affair with Fernande, his stimulating friendship with Braque, or his introduction to the life on the Left Bank and, later, his fame after the World War II when he was one of the monuments of Paris. One finds her much less at ease when faced with the need to unravel the joint Spanish/Catalan influences that molded his early life, let alone the reasons why Picasso's effect on the art of his times was so phenomenal. And, of the reasons for that prodigious creativity, she has no clue. For a typical description of his work, in this case, his sculpture, "Head of Death": "This was no memento mori , no anguished cry against the devastations of war. . . . It was a magic totem designed to conquer death not by transcending it but by defying it and pitting against it the power of its creator's say-so, make-so, will."

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