JWR Articles: Gallery/Museum - Klee Meets Picasso (Featured artists: Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso) - August 14, 2010
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Klee Meets Picasso

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Magnificent images set the table

Before embarking on the sumptuous musical feast that has been carefully chosen for the 2010 Lucerne Festival in Summer, a quick trip to Berne and the Zentrum Paul Klee seemed the perfect appetizer to the dozens of concerts to come.

Getting there from Lucerne was simplicity itself. The hourly train departure arrives in the Swiss capital in less than 90 minutes (discounts are also offered by the railways to this exhibit). From the Bahnhof it’s just 15 minutes on the No. 12 bus “Zentrum Paul Klee”—hard to miss that connection!

A brief walk to the trio of linked, silver-waving “hills” and the 180 pieces of “Klee and Picasso: two giants of art history” await the careful examination of all visitors. The multi-lingual audio package is highly recommended. Its commentaries are fact-filled, brief and non-patronizing.

Going head to head takes on new meaning from the onset.

Two self-portraits co-exist side by side. Picasso’s (1907) is near-emotionless. The gargantuan nose largely divides two uneven eyes. The subservient garb (predating his Communist days) adds to the cool detachment that belies the overt passion of the master artist held silently within the frame. Klee’s self-depiction features an over-sized hand supporting the surrealist’s head. The ink-on-paper visage also sports unequal eyes and a penetrating stare that is hard to turn away from. The notion of critic and sometime subject is immediately evident.

Soon under scrutiny were the relative wildness of Picasso’s Tête d’homme (1969) and Man with the Golden Helmet (1969)—eons from Rembrandt’s but suddenly conjuring up Tristan’s legendary prowess with deadly blades (Peter Sellars will direct the semi-staged version of Tristan und Isolde) in Lucerne.

Indeed, many of the works displayed resonate with the music to come. The Kiss (Picasso, 1969) with its lip-locked lovers looking off in different directions, their emotionless eyes intriguingly reversed by the exposed nipples, personifies the Festival’s theme of “Eros.” Klee’s Heavenly Love (1939) might well have served as the poster image: the sparsely rendered pair perched on tiptoes of enjoyment speaks volumes in its few strokes.

Klee’s Vigilant Angel (thin-white etching on black) is a far cry from the fully described angelic roles in Mendelssohn’s Elijah where Death and Fire—infused with the painter’s precarious health—has the tone and feel that are at one with Berg’s Lulu (both the suite and a film version will be seen and heard during the Festival).

Magnificent in its unpretentious tone is Klee’s Actor (1932). The appearance of waiting in the wings (the nondescript expression; apparently with one blind eye), ready to play any part is deftly balanced by gay costuming that covers the spectrum of theatrical possibility. Dozens of singers are preparing to do likewise in opera, oratorio and art songs that will bring welcome respite from the many orchestral and chamber music offerings soon underway.

Perhaps the most metaphorically rich of all is Klee’s Above and Below (1932). A band of silver paper marvellously separates the subject matter. The figure above has eyes wide open and an engaging smile; below, the captive’s eyes are shut; a flower is wilted despite the life-giving sun; a purple heart aches for rescue from this stylistic purgatory; a solitary prison bar may as well be 100. Here’s hoping the floating breasts hovering just under the divide will materialize into Leonora and Florestan will be saved just as surely as the pair of concert performances of Fidelio under the direction of Claudio Abbado will bring the 2010 Festival to a triumphant opening.

As marvellous as the exhibit is (perfectly summed up visually by Klee’s 1914 Homage to Picasso), today’s burgeoning, creative minds have not been left out. Creaviva—the children’s museum—is also holding special sessions until October to inspire young lives, their eager hands and inquisitive minds “to participate and assimilate creative dialogue with modern art.” Could the next Klee or Picasso be amongst them? JWR

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Featured artists - Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso
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