THE BLOG
02/03/2016 10:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Picasso's Bicameral Mind

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It's no revelation that Picasso amongst many classic modernists was enamored of primitive art. However, the fixation poses a visual conundrum when you look at some of the early work in the current Picasso Sculpture exhibit which is just completing a run at MoMA. How can one of the most venerated practitioners of classic modernism produce works that could have been found on an anthropological expedition? Take, "Figure," piece number 9 in first room of the show, a wood sculpture that exudes a totemic tribalist quality. Cubism is obviously the influence here, but isn't so-called "cubist sculpture" itself an oxymoron to the extent that the fragmentation of the real object is no longer conveniently taking place in a flat plane? Take Number 29 the famous "Guitar" piece. As a painting you would have spied the object immediately, but here the guitar is literally deconstructed. No one dreams that a painting can perform a function, but sculpture is three dimensional and in theory you might toy with the novelty of playing Picasso's guitar. Cubism is supposedly about time as well as space. However, with its "negative space," "Guitar" is no longer an instrument that could be played by anyone. Here is what the curators have to say about the monumental sculptures of the Boisgeloup period:

"Noses, mouths and eyes double as female sexual organs and the sculpture's surfaces conjure both the softness of flesh and the unforgiving hardness of bone."

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was the name of Julian Jaynes book about the ancient world. Bicamerality might be one way of describing the effect Picasso's work radiates, only the paradox is that it's created by one of the most highly developed artistic intelligences of the 20th Century.

"Figure" by Picasso (photograph: Hallie Cohen)

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}