“Gertrude Stein and Pico, the invention of language”, at the Luxembourg Museum, the visionary dialogue of two icons

Gertrude Stein photographed by Man Ray alongside her portrait by Pico in 1922.

It would be an understatement to say that the “Gertrude Stein and Pablo Pico” exhibition at the Luxembourg Museum is surprising. It is because, in this place generally dedicated to the ecumenical celebration of the Renaissance and Impressionism, contemporary artists who belong to conceptual art, and others of whom think of their works as weapons of a critique of North American society, the stereotypes and inequalities suffered by women and African-Americans.

It is also so by its construction in two very distinct parts, of which the figure of the writer and collector Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) alone ensures coherence. It is still there because, if Pico is present, it is not for yet another conventional tribute, but to show how he introduced a decisive revolution for the arts in the 20th century.e century. Which the subtitle, “The invention of language”, suggests in a rather elliptical way.

It is therefore an ambitious and demanding exhibition. The success is all the more remarkable as the two curators, Cécile Debray, director of the Pico Museum, and the art historian ia Quesnel, had little time to organize it. When it was decided that the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Spanish artist would be celebrated in 2023, the Luxembourg Museum had to devote itself to its relations with Russia, which has remarkable collections of earlier works in its museums. in 1917. After the attack on Ukraine, it was urgent to invent another project. Since the East was no longer accessible, it was necessary to turn to the West. Two-thirds of the exhibition therefore studies the artistic consequences, in the United States, of the experiments carried out by Pico and Stein in Paris at the beginning of the century.

Relationship of creator to creator

The historical argument is this: Stein, a young woman from a Jewish family who emigrated from Germany, came to Paris in 1903 to join her brother Leo. Both collected Matisses and Picos, which French enthusiasts rejected, and frequently met the two artists. But, with Pico, who painted her in 1906, Stein did not have a relationship of patron or model to artist, but of creator to creator. From her first writings, she tests the capacities of meaning and transmission of the word in relation to things, beings and emotions. Pico, at the same time, worked on the skills of representation and suggestion of the drawn and painted form in relation to these same things, beings and emotions.

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