The springtime of youth

Picasso, Miro, Dali in Florence

Alexandra Korey
March 24, 2011

Have you ever met someone famous when he or she was still young and unknown? That's how I felt coming out of Palazzo Strozzi's latest exhibit, Picasso, Miró, Dalí. Angry Young Men: the Birth of Modernity. With a cinematographic yet scholarly approach, curators Christoph Vitali and Eugenio Carmona lead us through the youthful works of these three Catalan artists who grappled with nineteenth-century artistic conventions and developed a new form of vision that was to shape the modern world.



Although Picasso, Miró and Dalí are often spoken of in the same breath, the three never exactly ‘hung out' together, although at different moments in time they all frequented a tavern in Barcelona called Els Quatre Gats. Picasso was born in 1881, Miró 12 years later in 1893, and by the time Dalí entered the world in 1904, Picasso was already a recognized angry young painter in his Blue Period, living between Spain and France.


Given the difficulty of communicating a movement not coordinated by a unified group with a manifesto, the curators have decided to use an innovative approach borrowed from the world of film. The exhibit starts in the year 1926, in Paris, when Dalí claims that he met Picasso. At this point, all three artists are working in a mature and recognizable style, evidence of which we see in the first room. But how did they get there? (At this point, you'd expect see some opening credits and a fade to black.)


Thus proceeds our exploration back in time through episodes in which two of the three artists star together, presented as 'considerations', moments that the curator perceived as significant. We see the importance of place for the young Miró and Dalí in the 19-teens in their Catalonian experiments in portraiture and landscape-traditional subjects rendered in less-than-traditional styles. The two artists were influenced by a local movement called Noucentism, which sought to capture the essence of Catalan spirit. This is best exemplified in the views of Mont-Roig (Miró) and Cadaqués (Dalí). These landscapes are not immediately recognizable to us as works of these great modern artists but they show a struggle to find the ‘right' style (a balance of classicism and cubism) that is essential to their artistic development.


Back again we go, this time to 1917, ‘when Miró almost met Picasso' in Barcelona, but the younger artist chickened out at an opportunity to meet the great P and had to content himself with tea and cake (or so I imagine) with Picasso's mother. The 24-year-old Miró at this point was mixing his ‘-isms' but trying to escape them. He writes, ‘I believe that tomorrow we will have no school ending in "-ism."' In the search for a style that would ‘let our paintbrush mark our vibrations,' he ended up profoundly influenced by Picasso's explorations of Cubism while choosing to ignore the more classicizing leanings of the great master (an aspect that, on the other hand, was to please Dalí very much). The paintings by Miró in this section do indeed pulsate with strange fauvist colours and cubist forms.


Finally, at the end-or really the beginning-we meet the young Picasso in a sketchbook from 1907, never before shown in its entirety, and see his youthful style expressed in oils from the first years of the twentieth century. The deeply melancholic poster image for the exhibition, 20-year-old Picasso's Two Acrobats (1901), explores styles, forms and colours never seen before. ‘Feeling blue' has nothing on Picasso, who used this chromatic limitation in a period of depression that represents a struggle for emerging creativity and innovation.


The ‘Angry Young Men' of the title of this exhibit are not really angry, they are struggling, or if you prefer a less Marxist term, they are rebelling. Like any rebellion, it is complex and comprises a series of often difficult to comprehend steps. Palazzo Strozzi's exhibits never fail to offer the visitor an opportunity to understand art on various levels, and in this case, beyond the visual joy of meeting these young artists, I still feel like I am missing something. However, thanks to this exhibition, its very scholarly catalogue and a tour with the curator himself, I have filled in a blank in my art history education and have plenty of food for thought.


Picasso, Miró, Dalí declares this the springtime of youth: alongside the show, which runs through July 17, 2011, there is a wealth of programming that continues Palazzo Strozzi's dedication to families and to the city while also specifically addressing young adults. Thursday Squared offers free concerts and activities in the courtyard until 11pm and free entrance to Emerging Talents in the Strozzina downstairs, while at other times there are drawing lessons, creative writing workshops, guided tours by local high school students and more. The exhibit's tentacles reach out into the city with free Tuesday night films at the Odeon on the theme of identity (April 19 to June 21) and reciprocal deals with the city's theatres and concert halls.





We must admit that these Spanish artists do not have a link to the city of Florence as does, say, Bronzino. So what are they doing at Palazzo Strozzi? During research for the show, the curators discovered that Picasso visited Florence on two separate occasions in 1917 and 1949. In 1917, he stayed in Italy for about two months, during which time he visited Rome, Naples, Pompei and Florence. He met Florentine futurist artists Alberto Magnelli and Primo Conti, and together they visited the city's museums, churches and palaces. Apparently, Picasso really appreciated Michelangelo's Night and Day. On a short return visit in November 1949, however, Picasso was ‘bored with museums,' according to journalist and art critic Antonello Trombadori, although at the Mercato Nuovo Picasso did ‘put his hand under the water splashing out of the bronze boar's mouth, just like a kid.'



Palazzo Strozzi & The Florentine are hosting Florence Slow Art Day 2011 on Saturday April 16 2011 - an occasion to look at art (slowly) and then talk about it (casually and over food!). Read about this experience and how to sign up here:


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