Narrator: Welcome to Calder-Picasso, an exhibition about two of the foremost figures in the history of 20th-century art. This exhibition reveals the radical innovations and enduring influence of these two artists through more than 100 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. During this audio guide you will meet the grandsons of Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso, Alexander S.C. Rower (Sandy) and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso. Listen in as they discuss and reveal how an intuitive comparison of their grandfathers’ work turned into a groundbreaking exhibition. Bernard and Sandy leverage their deeply personal relationships to their grandfather’s work, extraordinary family history, and their own friendship as they communicate their excitement in sharing these two artistic giants and their humanity with the world. Sandy Rower . . .
Sandy: So Bernard's wife is an art dealer and she has a gallery, multiple galleries. She's a very successful and wonderful person and dear friend and she was saying that she saw something between Calder and Picasso in one of these conversations. And Bernard and I were, "That's interesting, what could it be? Something, something." And then we decided to see what would come of sharing images. So it wasn't a whole dialogue, it was just, send Sandy this image and see how Sandy responds. Sandy sends an image back of a Calder.
Bernard: From that first snapshot sent. It was developed instantly, by Sandy, the desire of making that show because it was really possible to do so. I think that snapshot gave us not only a desire but also a strength in believing in the project. And then the concept came, which was much more... Not complicated but the concept did require more study, investigation and research on that subject.
Sandy: There was this thing that developed, this very personal thing between Bernard and myself. And our 100 and whatever years of observation, how that plays a role in the energetics of the intersection of these two artists. So it's super, super personal.
That was the framework of the beginning for the exhibition, which the kernel of this exhibition was a small exhibition at Almine Rech Gallery, Bernard's wife's gallery. And it was a wonderful show and the show was seen by the director of the Musée Picasso, Laurent Le Bon. Who was not my friend but who was Bernard's good friend and has become a great friend of mine also. And Laurent was like, "I have to have some aspect of that for Musée Picasso." So then we began working on a serious museum show but still with the same kernel of authenticity from the grandsons.
I would add, I think what's amazing about this exhibition, from a curatorial point of view is that here are these two guys in their 50s when we began and been observing their grandfather's work all of their lives. A very privileged, unusual position to be in and through our friendship over many years, a long-term discussion about Calder and Picasso... Who were not close friends in their lifetime, they knew each other, they had association, they had conversation but they weren't best friends. The beginning of the exhibition is this private conversation between these two guys that have their own essential knowledge about these fantastic artists that so many people know and know in-depth.
- Drawing in Space
Drawing in Space
Narrator: What does it mean to draw in space? Listen as Sandy and Bernard talk about the origin of the phrase and how it shows up in both Calder’s and Picasso’s work. They emphasize that this is not a discussion of who used the term first but rather a rumination on the impact of the practice of modernism and a dedication to creativity.
Sandy: ...It's really interesting because in the last 30 years, 40 years even, this phrase drawing in space has been applied to Picasso's sculpture very heavily. Our dear mutual friend, Carmen Giménez, the great curator, did a show at the Guggenheim in New York, called Picasso and the Age of Iron. And she was very focused on this drawing in space, meaning two dimensions leaping to the third dimension. And when I pointed out to her that the phrase was used for Calder in the 1920s, she was stunned... She said, "That's not possible." And I said, "Well no, here are the critics in Paris talking about Calder's wire sculpture, talking about him drawing in space," literally that phrase.
And it wasn't until about 10 years ago when González, who was assisting Picasso in making his sculptures, writes it down in his personal notebook, about drawing in space. And then some years after that, it was actually published as a Picasso phrase. But it's fascinating that it began as a Calder thing and enveloped both and of course, it's used for other people too... But it begins with this idea that Calder can take a line and make a three dimensional volume in space without using mass. And I think in terms of that, Calder's wire sculptures are tremendously successful because to omit the bronze and the marble clay, the density of sculpture is extraordinarily progressive.
Bernard: ...both Picasso and Calder were dedicating all their time to their creation. They were just working nonstop and also, as modern artists, they had to find ways to experiment and develop new way of perceiving and creating art.
Sandy: And yet of course, it was really problematic in the 1920s, people said, "That's not a sculpture." And it's not drawing, it's not sculpture, it's not painting obviously, so what is it? Calder didn't want to argue the fact that these sculptures were not sculpture, so he just called his work objects. He said, "You can't refute that it's an object. So I'll call them objects." And of course later, fascinatingly, the mobile is named by Marcel Duchamp and the stabile is named by Hans Arp. The Constellations of Calder are named by James Johnson Sweeney. Each body of work are named by other people.
Calder doesn't come up with these categories for his own work. He actually sidesteps these issues, he doesn't want to argue that something is what it obviously is. These are obviously sculptures, we recognize that today, even though they might be in suspension.
- Capturing the Void
Capturing the Void
Narrator: The focus of this exhibition is the artists’ shared exploration of the void. What is the void? Is it physical, is it imaginative, is it unknown? Is it energy yet to be explored? Listen as Sandy and Bernard unpack the many meanings behind the void in Calder’s and Picasso’s work and what it means to them.
Sandy: The point of the show is to share with us something about ourselves much more. Because both of these artists are communicating what it is to be human, the challenges that it is to be human. One from a deeply personal, internalized way with Picasso and one from a very externalized way. ...for Calder, when you see a hole in a piece of metal in a mobile, it's not a hole. It's an invitation, it's a portal, it's a way, it's a process to get to something other than what we know as our quotidian life, as this moment of being alive.
Bernard: But for Picasso also, the way he'd been treating sculpture and painting has a lot to do with Calder’s way of perceiving because Picasso did nonclassical, classical, clay or bronze cast sculpture but also, he made quite a few works with iron metal and with a lot of space you can, in that void, feel something because you get really an interaction. Sandy was defining a little bit, the void, which was basically the main concept of our project but because a void, it's not nothing. It's full, it's full of that many dimension but it's this desire of experimenting shape, volume, identity of the subject and to find the kind of inner energy in what they were doing...
Sandy: ...As Bernard said, the void is not empty, the void is full. The void is full of all those other dimensions that we're only just now on the cusp of even understanding that they exist, let alone defining what they are.
...But I do want to say that this exhibition is not about who did what first. It's a project about modernity, it's a project about how we see the modern in art.
- World's Fair
Narrator: While Calder and Picasso didn’t know each other well, they crossed paths a few times, most importantly in July 1937 at the International Exposition in Paris. Calder’s Mercury Fountain was installed in front of Picasso’s Guernica in the Spanish Pavilion. Part of the significance of these works is that they highlighted the socio-political climate of the world at the onset of World War II. Listen as Sandy and Bernard reflect on this time and what it meant for Calder and Picasso to be creating such critical work and having impactful discussions on the state of the world.
Sandy: It's astonishing to look back, that 1937 in Paris, they had no idea what was about to come. I look back and I group 1937 with 1941, with 1944 and the death of so many people and I shouldn't because they didn't know what was about to come in '37 when they were making these claims against some of the most unattractive aspects of humanity. So Calder was an unlikely player in the pavilion. He was written about in the Spanish press as if he was Spanish because he was part of the pavilion, which is funny. It would have been amazing to see that pavilion with González and Miró and all the other artists that had participated and the building itself was quite a fantastic revelation. The integration of the exterior and the interior was a beautiful piece of architecture and it's just basically like a shed, it's not fancy but wonderful.
Calder was not Spanish, as we know but he was asked to come in by the architects. Josep Lluís Sert was Calder's new friend, introduced by Joan Miró and they thought maybe Calder could figure out how to make the fountain in mercury because they had a fountain already planned that was just spitting mercury and didn't look like anything. And of course, Calder was able to figure out how to make something that had meaning. The Mercury Fountain is a direct political work because the mercury was being mined in Almadén and Almadén was a bastion of resistance to Franco's fascism. So it was another symbol like Guernica but not the universal symbol like Guernica has become for the same purposes, the horror of what they were experiencing.
Bernard: I don't know if it's a masterpiece but this emblematic piece of artwork called Guernica.
Sandy: Wait, wait, wait just a second. What do you mean I don't know if it's a masterpiece? What are talking about? What does that mean?
Bernard: Because I think it's a little bit beyond that simple definition. It's a work I go to see and I'm not the only one but more I go to see it, more I cry. It's just as simple as that because it's personal and because it touched many facets of my own life but other people's lives. Because same drama continue to repeat nonstop on this beautiful planet, I wonder why but it's like that. And so Guernica, it's such an important statement, of course, it's one of the greatest masterpiece of 20th century and maybe in art history, all the century before. But the Spanish pavilion had a big impact on all the intellectuals and the artists who were invited into that pavilion did not really intend to give political statement, but they did show what was their belief. And I think it's very important in the Spanish pavilion because it was a momentum of a kind of human scream.
It's absolutely fascinating, the differences between Calder and Picasso. But in fact, their aim is the same, through different aspects. And so, the Spanish pavilion is a very, very important artistic moment because it's also shown how artists continue that legacy of being engaged for something...
- In the Studio
In the Studio
Narrator: This section of the exhibition is called In the Studio. It explores the personal practices of both Calder and Picasso, highlighting their humanness and deep connection to family and the artistic craft. Here, Sandy and Bernard relive their childhood memories of their grandfathers, giving us a behind the scenes glimpse into the lives of Calder and Picasso and demonstrating the way these great artists balanced work and life. Bernard Ruiz-Picasso ...
Bernard: ...he was keeping that place very secret. It was his battleground and just a few friend would go, his wife but mostly, I would not go. I was just a little guy with not really a lot of time to talk with him because he was quite old, his time was precious. But I was then trying to be there or to go around with him on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, things like that. But I think Sandy has a more fascinating experience.
Sandy: Well, one of the things I learned about Picasso in the studio from you is that he kept the key. The key to the door, which was locked, was always kept on his person. He didn't let other people have access to the studio, it was absolutely not allowed to go in there without him and even not allowed to go in there with him. Which is amazing, his wife would go in or his dealer might go in, there were occasions for people to go in but it was really a sacred place and he kept the energy of that room, of the space, just for himself. And my grandfather had the similar kind of thing, his space, his studio, is some kind of a holy place.
My grandfather never had a studio assistant, he never played music. He just was silent, and he was at work. And if somebody came to visit him, he would welcome them in for a few minutes and then would figure out a way to get them out of his studio. But a lot of people were in his space that I observed. I was in the studio a lot, he was very welcoming to the grandchildren. There were four of us grandchildren, we were all allowed to be in the studio as long as we were at work. If we were there doing something that we shouldn't be doing, then he would kick us out instantaneously. It was not a place to be casual and it was silent.
Bernard: I believe you see through all the photographic archive. It seems to be a little bit messy in their studio but in fact, each element, each artwork, each photo, each newspaper had a very important and a very crucial importance for their creation. In fact, Picasso is very modern but he's also very classical in a way. He lives in his home, he has a studio in his home. He has the loved one, wife, the children. He will stop at lunchtime to have lunch with the children. And then he would go back to work.
Sandy: One of the great things I learned in the process of this project was Bernard's observation that these two guys are shaman, which is his term. That at the beginning of each day, they're facing this void, they're facing this emptiness. They have this process of self-discovery, self-creation every day. And that's seven days a week, these guys didn't stop. These are two of the most productive artists of all time. Picasso's work is very well documented, as is Calder's and there's tens of thousands of works for each artist. It's totally and completely extraordinary. But we sit here today and say, these artists are highly regarded, they changed this and that, so on and so on but we forget that they were people. They were very human people; they weren't infallible and if you think about that sensation of not knowing what you're going to do... And they both did this self-assassination and reinvention many times in their lives.
Bernard: Picasso is my grandfather but at the end of the day, I'm working with his work on a daily basis.
Sandy: ...And my viewpoint of Picasso was quite different at the beginning, now, about five years ago. I learned so much from Bernard and my own explorations of understanding Picasso. And I think Bernard might agree that we shared our grandfathers with each other. And discovering that Picasso's deep anxiety with his mortality and dealing with these issues of mortality in every work that he does really and every work being a self-portrait, even if it's a portrait of somebody else, his wife, somebody else, it's still a reflection of himself and these deep, deep issues.
They shifted direction, when they were making very popular work, they shifted direction and made stuff that people didn't understand. That's one of the great commonalities of these two artists and at the end of their lives, they were both making tremendously relevant work to the culture at the time. They weren't just making shadows and recreations and rehashing vocabulary from 30 years earlier.
Bernard: Sometimes you have two guys like Mr. Calder and Pablo Picasso doing a lot every year. I believe in the power of art and I think those two artists, I'm so happy and grateful to have been born in that family. So I think Sandy and I, we try to share a little bit that with other people. So basically, it's what I'm thinking about that but it's because it does exist, this energy.
Narrator: Thank you for joining us today for Calder-Picasso. The High Museum of Art would like to thank Alexander S. C. Rower (Sandy) and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso for making the time to share their insights about their grandfathers with all of us. We hope you found the juxtapositions of Calder’s and Picasso’s work surprising and challenging. Most importantly, we hope you have a clearer understanding of these Greats of modern art and their commitment to innovation through their ceaseless reexamination of form, line, and space.