‘Picasso and Rivera’ Creates Séance for Dialog Between Two Painters

Ladies and gentlemen of Los Angeles, get ready for an unforgettable matchup. In this corner, originally from Spain, is Pablo Picasso, heavyweight champion of the Eastern Hemisphere for his pioneering cubist and abstract masterpieces. And in this corner, Diego Rivera, from Mexico, heavier-weight champion of the Eastern Hemisphere for his post-Impressionist murals. Painters, come out with your best stuff.

That’s what happens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art starting Dec. 4 with “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time,” the exhibit that everyone will be talking about this winter. Both artists worked in Paris in those magic years of the Cubist movement, alongside their other contemporaries, such as Amadeo Modigliani and Chaim Soutine. (Rivera is even depicted as part of that class in the famous cubist group portrait, “Homage to Friends From Montparnasse,” by Marevna.)

Picasso then went on to reshape the face of art with abstractions and other forms of modernism, including his sprawling mural-size “Guernica,” and moved to the south of France to flee the Franco dictatorship. Rivera returned to his native Mexico and adopted a style of simple vivid colors to create the undisputed masterpieces of 20th-century murals.

The LACMA exhibit shows the men as contemporaries and maybe even competitors, two bigger-than-life artists – figuratively in Picasso’s case, literally in Rivera’s – that have not only stood the proverbial test of time, but loom like twin towers over the art history of the past 100 years.

Of more significance to a comparative study: Both artists drew from pictorial tradition that pre-dated them by centuries and used the styles and visions of their historic predecessors to bring new vitality to post-representational painting. Picasso went back and emulated the cave paintings of our ancestors, using the lines that illustrated their triumphant hunting expeditions to suggest the subjects of his portraits. Rivera used colors and shapes of the pre-Columbian artists who worked in the days when Aztecs, Mayas and Incas were colonized by Europeans. About 150 paintings will be paired to create dialogs between the painters, along with displays of the primitive art that informed and inspired their styles.

Fun fact about Diego Rivera: He was Jewish. Or believed he was. His family was perhaps descended from the “conversos,” Jews who adopted Catholicism for show in order to survive the Inquisition, but continued practicing their true religion at home in secret. Although he was an atheist, he once wrote: “My Jewishness is the most dominant element in my life.”

Fun fact about Picasso: Among his many mistresses, he often kept several at a time, painting a portrait of one in the morning, another in the afternoon, making love, fighting with one, drinking, sleeping, then getting up and doing it again the next day. These relationships were depicted minute-by-minute through the paintings that resulted in a previous LACMA show, “Picasso’s Women,” among the best the museum has ever staged.  “Picasso and Rivera,” however, promises to join it at the top of the list or even surpass it.

“Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time” is at LACMA from Dec. 4 – May 7. Tickets are here.