About the exhibition: Picasso. Tales from the Labyrinth
The exhibition title
The exhibition title takes its point of departure in the labyrinthine structure of Picasso’s important narrative work known as the Vollard Suite from the 1930s. Here, Picasso strikes notes that prompt the spectator to regard the images in the suite as sections of a tale featuring a fixed cast of players, personalities that undergo a certain development, dramatic highlights, and similar devices. However, the ordering of events and time one naturally expects from a narrative is nowhere to be seen, and the spectator is deliberately disoriented.
Time in Picasso's work
Time is a recurring theme in Picasso’s graphic production until the post-war years. Time is treated as an aspect of the mode of representation and as an aspect of the narratives which the artist has illustrated. The Vollard Suite’s suspension of time appears again in other parts of the artist’s graphic production. His Cubist etchings from the 1910s, which show their subject matter from several angles simultaneously, bring together “before”, “now”, and “after” in a single moment without taking chronological order into consideration. A similar disregard for chronology is evident in the illustrations for Ovid’s metamorphoses from 1930, only now with links to myths about transformations of form and identity.
The Bull and the Minotaur as Motifs in Picasso
The bull and bullfighting as fundamental motifs
The bull and bullfighting are fundamental motifs in Picasso’s art. Having depicted bullfighting scenes from an early stage of his career, he engaged with this circle of motifs in earnest from the 1920s onwards. Here, he focused on confrontations between the bull and the horse belonging to the mounted bullfighter, the picador.
The confrontation can take on sexual qualities where the bull is cast in the role of the man and the horse plays the part of the woman, or it may take the form of pointedly highlighted acts of violence.
Bullfighting in the Vollard Suite
In the Vollard Suite from the 1930s certain scenes take place in an arena or bullring, but the bull has been replaced by the Minotaur, a figure from Greek mythology who was part man, part bull and dwelled in the labyrinth by the palace at Knossos on Crete. The Minotaur is pitted against a classical sculptor whose studio it invades and with whose model it engages in debaucheries. Taking the form of man-as-bull, the Minotaur represents the untamed, the animal-like.
Spain as a bull
The fact that Picasso attributed symbolic significance to the bull is also apparent from the political satire The Dream and Lie of Franco, where the bull represents Spain and is repeatedly shown attacking the steed of self-appointed crusader General Franco.
The kill - following World War II
In Picasso’s depictions of bulls from the time following World War II the artist returns to bullfighting again, now with particular emphasis on the kill itself. For the kill, the bullfighter inserts so-called banderillas in the animals’ neck. Other works from the period show that Picasso may have viewed this drama as having symbolic significance; they depict the relationship between man and woman as the relationship between bull and bullfighter in this very situation.