War at Picasso museum as artist's relative calls for curator's head

Andrew Birch
Saturday 25 June 2011 09:32
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The art world of Spain is getting hot under the collar about the politics of Picasso. The Malaga-born artist's wealthy daughter-in-law, Christine Ruiz-Picasso, has refused to open the latest show at the Malaga Picasso Museum, and has demanded the resignation of its highly acclaimed director José Lebrero, who has curated a series of much-praised temporary exhibitions alongside the permanent show of Picasso paintings.

The new show, "Viñetas en el frente" (Cartoons on the front line), is unashamedly partisan, consisting of Republican posters and cartoons from the Spanish Civil War, and famous anti-Nazi graphic works by artists such as George Grosz and John Heartfield.

The heart of the show is the extraordinary set of Picasso engravings; "Sueño y mentira de Franco" (Dreams and Lies of Franco), in which Picasso's visceral loathing of the former Spanish dictator spills out in a series of violent, sexual and bitingly funny images that still have the power to shock today.

Artists, galleries, critics and every Spanish art institution imaginable is up in arms, signing petitions and creating Facebook pages unanimously giving Mr Lebrero their support. The local paper, Sur, has attacked Ms Ruiz-Picasso for thinking of the Picasso Malaga as her own museum, despite the public money invested in converting it.

Art tourism is big business in Spain. Malaga, trying to change its reputation as a city that people simply fly to so they can travel on to the great Andalucían showpiece cities of Granada, Cordoba and Ronda, has seized on it to improve its image, and keep the tourists. There is a relatively new contemporary arts centre, CAC Malaga,: British artists such as Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, Gavin Turk and the Chapman Brothers have shown there. Malaga cannot compare with Madrid or Barcelona, but in terms of art, it is the best-served city in southern Spain. The crowds of visitors are still milling around the entrance to Picasso Malaga, as they do every day, paying the high admission prices that have made this place a cash-cow for the city.

Perhaps that is the answer? Publicity never did any harm, and lots of people will flock to see the show, to see what all the fuss is about. Perhaps that was at the back of Christine's mind. A showman like Picasso would have approved.

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