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Publications

“Primitive” Picasso

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In the game of musical chairs we call “What’s going on around town?” the seat of honor this summer belongs to the “Primitivism”exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. It is not only the premier “happening” of the summer season, but possibly the most important of many seasons to come. If you’re looking for an excuse to visit our much-praised new museum, this is about as good as excuses get.

Entitled “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art, the show examines the parallels between modern and tribal objects, placing them in juxtaposition to raise questions of influence (Were the Expressionists mimicking tribal objects they saw in museums? Were they using those objects as mere touchstones?) and innate aesthetic (Is there something in the freedom of the tribal mind that’s similar to the freedom sought by the modern artists?).

More immediate than such questions, though, is the ingenious way the two worlds mingle in the show. Modern art works, both paintings and sculpture by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Braque (all considered to work with “primitive” techniques), are paired with tribal objects from Africa, Oceania and North America, revealing similarities of form, style and aesthetic. Often the similarities are uncanny, making it difficult to tell which is old and which is new. As the DMA takes its greatest pride in its modern collection (and in its modern downtown facility), it’s fitting that it should embrace an exhibit that addresses the roots and the foundation of such modernity.

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