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Picture This: Picasso in the Feminist Fold

January 23, 1998|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gloria Steinem and Arne Glimcher had to have a laugh over the dovetailing of their respective interests--Picasso and abortion rights. Steinem is founder of Voters for Choice, the country's largest abortion-rights political action committee. Glimcher is chairman of PaceWildenstein art galleries in Beverly Hills and New York.

The fund-raiser at the Beverly Hills gallery on Wednesday night was the unveiling of a 35-painting survey of the artist and also marked the 25th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. But it also begged the question: How would Picasso, given his notorious bad-boy reputation, have felt about supporting reproductive freedom as a basic human right?

Terri Smooke, an art collector and chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Modern and Contemporary Art Council, marched right over to "Le Sommeil," a portrait of Marie-Therese Walter.

"See how she is languid. Picasso always painted her so there were no bones. She had no strength. Tonight is about women taking charge of women, which is so totally opposite of what he thought," she said.

Steinem said she asked Glimcher what he thinks Picasso might have thought of the event. She chuckled.

"He said he thought as long as people were coming to see his paintings, Picasso would have been fine," she said.

And what does Steinem think?

"Picasso cared about injustice, and I like to think now his sense of injustice would have included this cause. So we welcome Picasso this evening as a feminist into our fold," she told the crowd.

Never mind that this statement by one of the founding mothers of feminism was spoken from a balcony directly above Picasso's 1967 painting whose French title translates to "Nude Woman With the Head of a Man."

Though guests were far more subdued than the throng of teeny-boppers assembled next door at Planet Hollywood for an appearance of the Spice Girls, the evening wasn't without excitement. The ongoing debate over L.A.'s art inferiority complex surfaced. Glimcher, who represents some members of the Picasso family, was explaining why fewer than half of the paintings were for sale, the rest on loan from family and collectors.

"That is a function of a gallery," Glimcher said. "In New York, we'll do an important show and not sell anything. We'll do a show because we want to do a show. It's show business."

Picasso's grandson, 38-year-old Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, agreed.

"This is to see. This is a perception-extending, life-enriching experience," he said. "Picasso doesn't need any help, but you need to show things, not to keep them undercover, to give an idea of what a man can do through the years."

"In New York," Glimcher said, "going to galleries and seeing an exhibit is a lifestyle. Ninety-nine and nine-tenths of the people who come come to look, because this is the way you live. People in L.A. don't have the habit of going to galleries. They have the habit of going to the gym."

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