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Art Review: Cubism Explained

Museum of Fine Arts Offers Simple, All-encompassing Exhibit

By W. Victoria Lee

Faces of Cubism

Museum of Fine Arts

Through April 16

465 Huntington Ave., Boston

Cubism is a word so familiar and yet so foreign. Is it something that has to do with Picasso? Yes. Is it an artistic movement? Not really. Is Matisse’s work influenced by Cubism? That’s possible — after all, he was friends with Picasso. What is Cubism exactly? Well, that you have to see for yourself at the exhibit, “Facets of Cubism,” now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts. A small show, the entire exhibit only occupies one medium-sized gallery. But the facets of Cubism presented number more than six.

The artistic liberation exemplified by Paul C zanne and exotic aboriginal art from Africa and the South Pacific fueled the invention of Cubism. Cubism was the brainchild of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque; it came into being at the dawn of the 20th century and subsequently became arguably the most popular “-ism” of art at the time. To detail the full account of the story of Cubism would be like the Cubist strokes — hard. Analytic Cubism, Synthetic Cubism: the types of Cubism and their influence can be difficult to elucidate. But the exhibit is well organized and does not dwell on artistic jargon, so anyone can follow the twists and turns of the Cubist tale with relative ease.

A series of Picasso’s early works are placed in chronological order, showing the progression of his invention — from humans that look like humans to humans that look like, well, cubes. Not only did the Cubists fragment their subjects, but they also made the colors of their palettes more earthy; the execution of their paintings became quite physical. Evidence of scratchy, not fluid, strokes is often visible on the canvases. People are also not the only subjects that are “cubified.” Many everyday objects, like bowls and cups, did not escape the attention of the eager Cubists. The result is strange and at times chaotic indeed, but it also has an underlying stability and sense of equanimity. The tension of order and disorder is one key aspect of what makes the Cubist paintings so captivating.

Cubism, though, is not limited to paintings. The exploratory Cubists, who besides Picasso and Braque included Fernand L ger, Juan Gris, Jacques Lipchitz, Robert-Victor-F lix Delaunay, Jean Metzinger, Louis Marcoussis, and many others, ventured into other media, such as sculpture. Quite a few Cubist sculptures are displayed in the middle of the gallery alongside the African and South Pacific masks which heavily influenced Cubism. The earthen features of the Cubist paintings and sculptures and the industrialized background against which they were formed endow the Cubists’ work with a modern vernacular quality.

The exhibit also includes samples of Cubist books with illustrations of, you guessed it, Cubist drawings. One such work is Max Jacob’s Saint Matorel with drawings by Picasso. The book is a quasi-autobiographical novel written shortly prior to his conversion from Judaism to Catholicism. What is Cubist writing, and what does Jacob’s change of faith have to do with his Cubist book? Well, again, that’s for you to find out. Take a hike down to the MFA this Independent Activities Period, and be prepared to immerse yourself in the Cubist world. Disorientation is a possibility, but 100 percent pleasure is guaranteed.