Of all the things the world needs in 2020, another effing Picasso show is not one of them. There have been countless major Pablo exhibitions in London over the past decade. Hell, I’m tired of typing the word Picasso, let alone looking at the bloke’s art. But the British public seems to have the same appetite for Pablo as it does for binge drinking and vomiting on the high street on a Saturday night, and British art institutions just can’t seem to stop pulling the Picasso pints. Now the RA is offering up a little snifter of the great Spanish artist’s works on paper.
But – annoyingly and obviously – it’s still great, because Picasso is great. Of course he is, the bastard. And he was as obsessed with paper as he was with every other material. Throughout his career he used it for sketches, preparatory drawings, etchings and full-blown works. He drew on scraps of paper, on envelopes and newsprint, and some of it is stunning.
Even the animal cut-outs from when he was nine years old are good. And by the time he moved to Paris in his late teens he was unstoppable. ‘The Frugal Meal’ is a heart-wrenching etching of desolate misery, ‘Woman with Lock of Hair’ is a morass of blue sadness. His Rose Period brings stony faces peering out of ochre walls before the influence of African art sets everything bursting apart into the birth of cubism.
There are inventive cut-outs and collages of newsprint and coloured paper, facial features exploding into geometric shapes. The work is a whirlwind of innovation, and here, on paper, Picasso is doing it all at his most intimate and unguarded. The weeping pre-war women, the cut-out skulls, the fractured bodies: this is a show filled with jaw-dropping moments of beauty.
But there are problems. The exhibition is an endless sprawl that is in desperate need of being at least three rooms smaller. It also totally over-estimates how interesting the intricacies of paper choice or printing methods are. And the decision to make a copy of his famous ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ painting the centrepiece of a whole room is one of the most confusingly embarrassing things the RA’s ever done.
The world really doesn’t need another Picasso show, but while one’s here, we might as well enjoy it for what it is: brilliant art by a genuine master. Bottoms up.