Paul Smith with Pablo Picasso in an exhibition in Paris
It has been 50 years since Pablo Picasso died at his home in Mougins on April 8, 1973, but the lasting impression and profound impact of his work remain. The British designer is presenting itself for the anniversary year PaulSmith leads the artistic direction of Picasso Exhibition at the Musée National Picasso-Paris, fusing his signature work of colour, cut and unexpected details with the Spanish artist’s valuable museum repertoire.
Titled Picasso Celebration: The collection in a new lightRunning from March 7th to August 27th, 2023, the exhibition showcases Smith’s curation around the masterpieces of Picasso’s collection in a way that invites the public to view the revered artist’s works through a contemporary lens and their relevance in today’s world to underline.
Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Dora Maar, 1937, huile sur toile, 92 x 65 cm Musée national Picasso-Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP158 | Images courtesy of the Musée national Picasso-Paris (header: room with painted stripes, Brigitte Veyne, preliminary sketch of the scenography designed by Paul Smith)
In a conversation with exhibition curators Cécile Debray and Joanne Snrech, found in the exhibition’s catalogue, Smith admits that he’s no art expert at all. “I have a love for art as well as all aspects of design. But I have to be really honest about the project at the Musée Picasso: the way it was approached, the general idea at the heart of the project was that it should be a free expression of my way of showing the work of Picasso,’ he says.
Smith adds that “The initial request gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted, which of course was quite scary, because there are many Picasso experts around the world and, on the contrary, my approach to the exhibition was very spontaneous, not at all connected to the story of Picasso. ‘
Pablo Picasso, La Flûte de Pan, autumn 1923, huile sur toile, 205 x 174 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP79
Paul Smith relies on his eye for spontaneous association
The visions of PaulSmith and Pablo Picasso sometimes converge, for example around their shared love of objects, dress and playfulness, leading to comparisons and an inventive approach to the presentation of the works. Although he has little academic knowledge of Picasso, Smith relies on his eye for visual and spontaneous associations to artistically guide the exhibition Musée National Picasso Paris.
“I’m a very visual person and my education in art and design is very minimal, so it always comes down to tackling things visually.” he says. “In a way, I’m guarding against possible criticism from some of the more academic connoisseurs of Picasso in the art world who might find this exhibition in some way disrespectful. But we should keep in mind that the real, original prompt was just to think something that was not an academic approach to do things differently for the occasion.”
Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline aux mains croisées, 1954, huile sur toile, 116 x 88.5 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris, dated Jacqueline Picasso, 1990. MP1990-26
Find inspiration everywhere
Like most of his work, Smith first encountered Picasso’s work when he was looking for inspiration. In his words, he finds inspiration in everything ‘and if not, please check again.’ He has quite a large art collection, but while he doesn’t view it on the level of Picasso, his connection to the art world is rooted in it. He has scoured the works of Braque and Picasso, looked at the colors of Matisse and his cropping, and looked at the hues that characterize Monet’s work.
“As a creative person, the world of art has always been a point of reference for me, but when I say ‘art’ I don’t just mean ‘painting’, I also mean the world of the opera composer Jean-Luc Godard Bellini and the architecture of Palladio. I get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Picasso, of course, was always part of that influence. he says.