A political objective of the artistic establishment in the U.S. is to depoliticize art. Art that explicitly expresses a political commitment to change the power relations in our societies is frowned upon, discouraged, ridiculed or condescendingly dismissed by the art critic whose assumed maturity is reflected in his cynicism and skepticism of anything that transcends his own parochialism.
It has to be expected that when an art collection of Picasso’s politically committed paintings has been organized (“Picasso: Peace and Freedom” -- Albertina, Vienna, Sept. 22, 2010 – January 16, 2011, and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, February 11-May 29, 2011), a voice of that establishment would warn that “political art” was actually non-political.
And this is what John Richardson tries to do in his article in The New York Review of Books (November 25, 2010) entitled “How Political Was Picasso?” concluding that the painter was not really political. He bases his conclusion on a whole series of erroneous observations and claims about Picasso and his political views during his youth. Richardson displays limited knowledge of the Spanish Civil War.
Richardson tries to diminish Picasso’s commitments to the causes he supported, including the anti-fascist struggles in Spain and Europe. To that end, he rewrites history and indulges in psychoanalytical explanations, ignoring the political realities and context that, to a large degree, shaped Picasso’s life and art.
For example, Richardson presents Picasso as a very changeable character, his opinions depending on the lover he had at the time. This is an accusation usually aimed at women – a woman’s opinion simply reflecting her husband’s opinion. It might seem to be an improvement to put a man in the same position, and changing wife for lover. But in either case, for man or woman, this stereotyping is wrong, and especially so in the case of Picasso.