Nora Lambert arrived at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a focus on the art of the Renaissance, but her Curatorial Fellowship took her in an unexpected direction. Curator John Ittmann encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone and explore something a little more modern.
“I generally don’t look at art that was made past the year 1700,” Lambert said. “But when I got here John said, ‘We’re going to fix that.’”
Skipping ahead a few centuries as she pored over the museum’s immense collection of prints, Lambert gradually focused her attention on early 20th-century Europe, and eventually to the prints of Pablo Picasso. The museum holds almost 300 Picasso prints and works on paper in its permanent collection, so even that was a daunting project. But within this alien terrain Lambert soon found some familiar themes emerging.
“Once we decided on Picasso we realized that there was this really interesting theme in which Picasso keeps returning to classical antiquity in a much more deliberate and personal way than I think a lot of people realize,” Lambert explained during a tour of the resulting exhibition, “Picasso Prints: Myths, Minotaurs, and Muses.”
“Most people have no idea that classical mythology was such a huge part of his body of work. So we settled on the topic not just for the alliteration but also because Picasso was very inspired by a trip he took to Italy in 1917, which sparked this grand interest in mythology and classical antiquity.”
The exhibition, which includes nearly 50 prints, begins in the 1920s but centers on the 1930s, as the legendary artist began to turn classical themes into ruminations on his own life, adopting the Minotaur as a bull-headed alter ego. Much of the work deals with the love triangle between Picasso, his wife Olga Khokhlova, and his young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. At times the three play out scenes from mythology; at others their relationship is depicted as a contorted bullfight.
“Picasso takes antiquity and clearly he’s absorbed everything. He’s just a sponge,” Lambert said. “He takes all this knowledge he’s acquired about ancient art and mythology and infuses it with his personal life. He blends the two and starts to turn his own life into a mythological drama to work out what’s going on in his personal life. And if you know anything about Picasso, he had a very active personal life.”
‘Picasso Prints: Myths, Minotaurs, and Muses’
Through Aug. 3
Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th St. and Ben Franklin Pkwy.