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Olivier Berggruen. Réelles présences : des élément...

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Olivier Berggruen. Réelles présences : des éléments décoratifs des ballets Parade et Mercure considérés en tant que sculptures

Pablo Picasso Nature morte devant une fenêtre à Saint-Raphaël

Pablo Picasso, Nature morte devant une fenêtre à Saint-Raphaël, 1919, Dessin au crayon et gouache, 30,5 x 22,5 cm. Berlin, musée Berggruen. © RMN-Grand Palais / Jens Ziehe © Succession Picasso, 2016

Between 1917 and 1924, Picasso was asked to design ballet sets and costumes for Serge de Diaghilev and Étienne de Beaumont. However, Picasso went even further than what he had originally been asked to create. In Parade (1917) he conceived a show by devising his own characters as well as unexpected scenarios, disrupting the theatrical action, thereby blurring the lines between ballet and the popular vaudeville.

With his living sculptures, Picasso created something new, especially in Parade and Mercure (1924), two productions that brought him in close contact with Erik Satie and Léonide Massine. He changed the storyline for Parade, as told by Jean Cocteau, to include two “managers”, dancing sculptures, as well as a mechanical horse. Meanwhile, in Mercure, which he worked on with Étienne de Beaumont, Picasso reveals a series of “poses plastiques”, inspired by Greek and Roman Antiquity. In Mercure Picasso amused himself with the regalia that had stiffened the dancers, replacing some with mechanical ones. Movement and immobility now played into one another.

I look at these two productions to show how Cubism had ushered in more flexibility and versatility, with sculptural forms deconstructed by movement now forming part of an aesthetic of “assemblage”’ invented by Picasso. This helped create a more lively scene, by shedding the conventions of classical ballet. Thanks to the play of flat surfaces, Picasso could free sculpture from its traditional definition. He went even further, demonstrating, that due to their historical ties, theatre and painting, two genres that shared a common language, could also aspire to be like one another.