|The paperboard guitar with contemporaneous Cubist papier collés installed in Picasso's boulevard Raspail Paris, December 9, 1912|
The term "collage" derives from the French verb, coller, the infinitive meaning “to paste.” A collage then, is literally a “pasted thing!" This new construction technique and its mass-produced media led to one of the most significant revisions of the relation between form and space in the history of sculpture.
This work, El Guitar, makes sculptural form paper thin. The bulky volume of traditional sculpture is denied. Here Picasso self consciously juxtaposes conventions of pictorial origin their novel sculptural use. In affect we are looking at a collage that has been built up orthogonally to the support plane. El Guitar is constructed in such a manner that attached paper components are no longer glued parallel to what would be the pictorial field, but instead project off it.
El Guitar does not depict space but occupies it. Pictorial means become sculptural ends. The picture plane as a site for metaphorical space, an imagined window perhaps, is increasingly transformed into a more immanently literal two-dimensional work space for othogonally projecting planes.
As an object, El Guitar presents a new understanding of the relations between form and space which straddles the distinctions between the pictorial, sculptural, and installational. It enfolds the surrounding space into its own identity, its own form. Sculpture as a solid plenum-like enclosure containing volume surrounded by the empty void of space is displaced by the projecting and semi-enclosing planes of El Guitar.
El Guitar is not simply illustratrative of nominalistic skepticism or a mere negation of the traditional categories. Rather it affirms a type of form which integrates form and space in an unprecedented way altogether. It becomes its own category.
By reducing form to a series of non-enclosing planes, it opens onto its surroundings. The water tight volume of sculpture no drains out into the world. The form of El Guitar disrupts and opens the enclosing skin-like surface plane of sculpture and establishes a mutually dependent interpenetration of plenum and void. In denying such clear cut, and now merely conventional distinctions, once finite boundaries become indeterminate. Is it collage, sculpture, or installation? It is El Guitar.
This object was inspired by, but does not, simply illustrate a guitar. Guitar forms are largely a pretext to an investigation of form as such. That an actual guitar is a semi-enclosing sculptural skin whose hollow innards are perpetually exposed to view through its sound hole may have been absolutely central to the discovery of an interpenetrating arrangement of form and space.
|Guitar as installed in Picasso's studio in 1913|
Nor were these arrangements definitive. Just as a single work precedes through a series of fits and starts, possibilities and alternatives, assertions and denials, Picasso reworked the arrangement of the overall hanging. The photographic reconstruction then allows us access to Picasso's itinerant thought process manifest in the fluctuating installation on his studio walls.
|Guitar, Sheet Music, & Glass, 1912|
El Guitar is not merely a guitar. It is a relational work rather than an essentialized autonomous entity. In one photograph from 1913 the forms of a guitar are continuous with a cafe-like still life motif so often utilized in tow-dimensional works during the period. In effect this image illustrates a three-dimensional version of the papier collé Guitar, Sheet Music, and Wine Glass from November of the prior year.
Ultimately El Guitar is revealed as an installed work in dialogue with its surroundings, and not the free floating autonomous sculpture MoMa has presented its steel cousin as since it's acquisition by then curator William Rubin. For years the cardboard cousin had been displayed, if at all, without any elements beyond the guitar form itself including its cafe table bottom, advertising its as "sculpture" at the expense of its relational aspect to architectural space in general.
|Picasso & William Rubin, 1971|
The current exhibition was in fact prompted by the "discovery" of this semi-circular piece of cardboard at the behest of art historian Christine Poggi. Intimately amiliar with the photographic record herself, she was lead to ask: What happened to this essential component of the object? The real discovery may be that it had been in the museum's holdings all along but never displayed.
Even though Picasso himself displayed El Guitar with and without this element, and no installation can be considered definitive, evidence suggests its relational aspect was. At the time of its making El Guitar was never displayed without being integrated into a compositional structure beyond the isolated forms of a guitar alone. El Guitar is therefore, not a guitar. To lend further weight to this conclusion evidence can be found in the steel version itself. Permanently affixed to its bottom is a plane of steel signifying "table top" (but perhaps simultaneously "shadow" as well).
|Vadimir Tatlin, Counter-Corner Relief, 1915|
|Georges Braque, Still Life Construction, 1914|
|Construction with Guitar Player and Violin 1913.|
For all the complexities of historical accuracy, the current installation hopes to be more faithful to Picasso's fluctuating original presentation in all its ambiguity. It is historically precise. Such contextualizing curatorial decisions suggest this condition as central, not accidental, to the meaning of the works as Picasso understood them.
Curators Anne Umland and Blair Hartzell, have dusted off the ideological overlay of the Rubin Era MoMa. In particular, his understanding stressed the cardpaper guitar with its ephemeral materials and construction, as a kind of rehersal maquette for the steel version which was to be the definitive performance. Yet here we are increasingly confronted with the possibility that the steel guitar is something of a slightly stale, if more durable, coda for the more improvisational and tentative original.
Revealed is a collective investigation of form, aesthetically and semantically rich. The exhibit recuperates the open-endedness of Braque and Picasso's freewheeling exploration of form, material, and meaning leaving contemporary audiences with a "new" set of imaginative possibilities to discover and contemplate for themselves.
|Guitar in steel after March 1914|
|Guitar as formerly installled as per Bill Rubin|