16 October 2009

Dave Hickey on Francis Picabia

During his lifetime, living in the midst of a high modernist culture that worshipped eccentricity, visual adventure, restless innovation, and willful autonomy, Picabia and his work were routinely dismissed and distrusted for exhibiting a surfeit of just these estimable values. ...

More engaged with making works of art than with constructing an oeuvre or articulating an ideology, Picabia wore out styles like a baby wears out shoes. Impressionism, fauvism, orphism, dada, surrealism, transparent palimpsests, pop appropriations and plastic abstractions all flickered by like subway stops, and there was never a moment in his long, unquiet career during which we might have caught up with him, during which his endeavour might have consolidated itself in the view of critics or jelled in the public's mind. ...

So Picabia would understand, I think, and probably appreciate the peculiar status of his reputation in the current histories of twentieth century art, where he is regarded as more legendary then legitimate. He would certainly take some pride in the extent to which his works have resisted explanation and consequently remained afloat and alive, because in the years since his death, right or wrong, prophetic or inauthentic, Picabia has become the resonant, multi-valent wild card in the hand of painters that twentieth century modernism has dealt us. His work constitutes the secret vault to which contemporary practitioners retreat for sustenance.

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