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July 19, 2011
A City Steeped in Picasso's Lore

Málaga hardly featured in Picasso’s adult life, but the city has still done its utmost to call attention to its claim to its most famous artist.

The city’s Picasso museum, the Museo Picasso Málaga, is at the heart of this effort. It has an impressive permanent collection, mostly bequeathed by relatives of the artist. Since late June, the museum has also been showing, for the first time, two temporary exhibitions.

Picasso’s birthplace and family home, at the corner of Plaza de la Merced, was turned into an art museum in 1998, with temporary exhibitions that include a collection of Picasso’s ceramics until the end of the year. In terms of original family memorabilia, however, the house has little to offer aside from some embroidered bedsheets and christening clothing worn by the Picasso children.

At times, Málaga appears to be overstretching its Picasso connection. A vacant movie theater on Plaza de la Merced is still draped in a giant advertisement that was put up five years ago for the 125th anniversary of Picasso’s birth, under the slogan “Málaga, his best canvas.” The advertisement has since lost some of its color and relevance.

Málaga’s evocations of Picasso provoked an embarrassing dispute last month, when one of the temporary exhibitions at the Museo Picasso Málaga opened. Christine Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter-in-law and one of the museum’s main benefactors, publicly lambasted its management for what she claimed was not only a politically motivated exhibition but also one that had, for the first time, not received the blessing of the Picasso family foundation.

“What should be questioned is not the work of my father-in-law but the opportunistic political usage that is made of it during a polemic election time,” she said.

The exhibition opened shortly after Spain’s governing Socialist party suffered a heavy defeat in municipal and regional elections and ahead of a general election expected sometime before March. The museum’s director and local culture officials rejected her accusation, insisting that their intention was to highlight an interesting aspect of Picasso’s work rather than gain any political mileage from the artist.

The exhibition that triggered Ms. Ruiz-Picasso’s outburst focuses less on Pablo Picasso than on the broader anti-Fascist movement that Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Russian poet, dubbed “the Army of Art” — an artistic crusade against the rise of Fascism during the 1930s. On display, for instance, is “He will gas the world with his words,” a 1933 photo montage by John Heartfield, showing Adolf Hitler in a Nazi uniform but with angel wings.

The exhibition includes two etchings by Picasso that each contained nine caricatures to condemn the ascent of Franco. They were intended to help raise money for the war effort; proofs of the caricatures were sold during the Paris International Exposition of 1937. They were displayed as part of Spain’s famous Republican pavilion, for which Picasso painted his now legendary “Guernica” mural.

The other temporary exhibition is arguably more revealing of Picasso’s personality. It explores the relationship between Picasso and the American war photographer David Douglas Duncan, who in the 1950s took a break from the battlefields to spend days on end at La Californie, Picasso’s villa near Cannes on the French Riviera. In all, Mr. Duncan took about 25,000 photos of the artist, of which 115 are shown in this exhibition, alongside 77 original works by Picasso that were also photographed by Mr. Duncan.

Photo credit: Two photographs of Picasso by the American war photographer David Douglas Duncan in the Museo Picasso Málaga

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