Art that scared Picasso: Corinna Lotz applauds a catalogue of Picasso's collection of African and Oceanic art, which throws much light on the complex, puzzling impact that 'primitive' art had on him

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Author: Corinna Lotz
Date: Dec. 2007
From: Apollo(Vol. 166, Issue 549)
Publisher: Apollo Magazine Ltd.
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,163 words
Lexile Measure: 1450L

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A hundred years ago, in June 1907, a young Spanish artist visited the Musee d'Ethnographie du Trocadero in Paris. His visit took place just as he had left behind the wistful mood of his blue and rose periods and was making heavy-weight nudes with blank, classical faces.

Peter Stepan's research on the consequences of this event opens up a new window on the sources of Picasso's inspiration. Stepan is an expert on African art and has researched the collections of Georg Baselitz and Fritz Koenig. He approaches his subject with passion and an extensive knowledge of the African art prized by European artists.

Picasso first came into contact with African and Oceanic culture when the horrors of colonialism in the Belgian Congo were hitting the news. Fellow artists and writers, such as Juan Gris, Alfred Jarry and Andre Salmon, were satirising European attitudes to Africa. The cultural historian Patricia Leighton has described how such modernists embraced what she terms an 'imagined primitiveness whose authenticity they opposed to a "decadent west'".

Three decades later Picasso was still haunted by the smell and sight of 'that awful museum'. The African and Oceanic artefacts he saw were not simply pieces of sculpture, he later told Andre Malraux: Whey were magical things.... The Negro pieces were intercesseurs, mediators ... they were against everything--against unknown, threatening spirits. I always looked at fetishes. I understood; I too am against everything. I too believe that everything is an enemy!'

Picasso turned painting inside out. As a Malagan from southern Spain, he was already an outsider in the sophisticated Parisian metropolis. He wanted to assert himself by identifying with both French culture and an 'absolute' Other. The most shocking way that he could do this was by introducing...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A172685404