The Pig’s Arms’ resident art critic, Phil O’Stein was an early visitor to the NSW Gallery Members’ free squiz at the new blockbuster Picasso exhibition.  Here’s his take.

Ah, yeah, hi.  Well the missus and I (and I use the term loosely, if you catch my drift, Tarquin) were amongst the three or four hundred thousand NSW Art Gallery members to line up for an hour and a half in the stinking heat of a Sydney November Sunday afternoon to run our beady peepers across the latest imported nonsense from the National Picasso Museum of Paris.

The NSW Gallery lucked out and scored third pick of the Museum’s collection – in fact Picasso’s own collection at the time of his death (read …. unsold stuff he had in the back shed).  First and Second picks went to Seattle and somewhere in Asia.

This is not to suggest that the 150 or so works on display were to an individual tripe of the first order, but I could see from the look on the missus’ dial that she was not going to contemplate a major redecoration of the rumpus room on the strength of the works the NSW Gallery flung up on the walls of most of its ground floor display spaces.

It was in fact a trans-historical pastiche of the various periods identified in Mr P’s long and illustrationist life.  There were bronzes as well as flat-pack art, and my personal favourite sculpture of a bull’s head – made from the careful juxtaposition of a bicycle seat with handlebars was slung way up on one wall – obviously reflecting the unsafeness of such an object amongst the seat-sniffers represented in impressive numbers amongst the members.

Now call me Phil O’Stein, if you like, but I have seen quite a lot of this art and a superset in the actual Museum villa in Paris, and I have to say that something seems to have been lost in the translation.

I’m betting that the loss is something to do with below-par curation of the overall exhibition.  There was virtually no explanatory material.  The curator(s) had boldly gone for letting the works speak for themselves – which led to some intriguing dialogues amongst the arterartie having a butchers at the works.  “Look, there’s the woman’s head over there”.  “That’s not the head”.  “Is that really a guitar”?  “I’m buggered if I can see the saxophone”.  Clearly the troops were not always up to re-assembling Mr P’s disassemblages.

Let me draw a contrast.

The missus and I (nudge, nudge) went to the Dali exhibition at the NGV sur Yarra a while back.  Like the NSW G Picasso exhibition, this was intended to be a blockbuster – and it certainly was.  Over half a million people flocked to Paris sur Yarra to have a squiz.  And magnificent it was too.  There were all kinds of interesting objects, movies from the period, light, colour and excitement.

That was what was missing from the Picasso Exhibition.  The excitement.

It could be that in sending off the great man Ed Capon – after his magnificent 30 years steerage of the NSW G – they had expected that the mass of Picasso works would be exciting enough on their own, and that the target to hit was the logistics – namely getting the masses through the exhibition quickly and tidily – hence the booked timeslots for ticket-holders only.

Maybe it really is that the NSW G – is showing us that it is a tired old flog of a building and that it is incapable of really doing the blockbuster exhibition with the same flair and panache as either the National Gallery in Canberra or the NGV in Paris sur Yarra.

What concerns me is not just that the Picasso exhibition left the missus and I a bit flat.  I’m worried that this is the second in a trend of “should be great but look a bit ordinary” exhibitions – following the “Mad Square” show.

If the arterartie members were having a struggle extracting delight from the Picasso show (as seemed to be the case for people dotted through the inner circle throng – more interested in dinner to come or what they were doing about their own personal global financial meltdowns…. readily apparent in their attire), what might one of the hoi polloi – expected to show up in their thousands make of Picasso ?

Geeze, he can draw, but why does he make the hands and feet so big ?

For THE artist of the 20th Century, the curators could well have worked up a tiny tiny bit of sweat and led the punters through with a modicum of context.  It’s the least they could have done.

So, the missus and I are scouting around to see whether there will be at any stage the odd guided tour where a well-informed artertainer can supply the context and inject the excitement that Patrons de la Salle de Porc have come to expect – ever since the Mondrian Brothers (Abstract Plumbers to the Drinking Classes) retiled the loos at the Pig’s Arms.