By Maha Alsharif


Pablo Picasso, Bathers, 1956, Found pieces of wood, assembled and reworked, variable sizes. Installation view, Staatgalerie Stuttgart.

During a short trip to South West Germany, we visited Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Although more known as “the cradle of the automobile” with several related attractions such as the Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart is also home to one of the country’s most popular museums. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart houses an extensive collection of European and international masterworks dating from the Fourteenth century to the present, with a special focus on Classical Modern art (1900 to 1980). Among the collection’s most impressive highlights is a large-scale group of sculptures, "Bathers" by Pablo Picasso. The 6-piece sculptural ensemble is a particularly unique work by the artist for it is the only multi-figure sculptural work of his career. It did not leave in his studio and only a single sculpture (The Young Man, 1958) was cast in bronze to be exhibited. Furthermore, the work captures important themes from Picasso’s practice: bathers, cubism, and sculpture. The museum added the work to its collection in 1981, and has since exhibited it with the permanent collection as well as in international exhibitions including Picasso: Bathers (2005) at Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Picasso’s Sculptures (2015) at MoMA in New York.

By manipulating pieces of lumber, picture frames, broomsticks, twigs and parts of furniture, Picasso masterfully crafted strangely symmetric, primitive looking figures that face the viewer as if caught in the middle of a choreographed performance on a stage. Each piece is uniquely composed, carved, painted or scratched to give each figure a distinct personality and suggestions of features including a bathing suit, sexual organs, ribs and faces. Yet the figures remain distorted, in line with Picasso’s earlier cubist work where he tested for new representational possibilities as opposed to pictorial conventions of space, beauty and time.


The linear presentation on white pebbles against the wall challenges the traditional 360° sculpture viewing experience. The interaction is limited to specific angles from calculated distances. It perhaps implies a voyeuristic opportunity; not unlike one of a passerby on an actual crowded beach full of independently moving exposed strangers. The still scrap figures then transform into animate beings that are experienced in specific time and space.

Pablo Picasso, Bather, 1908-09, Oil on canvas, 129.8 x 96.8 cm. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Details: Pablo Picasso, Bathers, 1956, Found pieces of wood, assembled and reworked, variable sizes.

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