200 words #9 / Francis Picabia

Picabia_Udnie.jpg

Francis Picabia
Udnie (Young American Girl; Dance), 1913
Oil on canvas, 290 x 300 cm
Centre Georges Pompidou/Musée National d‘Art Moderne, Paris. Purchased by the state
© 2016 ProLitteris, Zurich

“Painting bores me” was just one of many confusing statements offered by the artist Francis Picabia. For unlike his contemporary Marcel Duchamp, who effectively abandoned painting after 1918, Picabia continued to paint up to his death in 1953 at the age of 74. Not only did he continue to paint, but he also worked through a dizzying range of styles, none of which seemed to have evolved naturally from the other as might be expected over the course of a painter’s career.

From his highly convincing re-imaginings of Impressionism for the 1905 Salon d’Automne to the controversial canvases he produced in the 1940s, Picabia’s trajectory as a painter was marked by a succession of artistic volte-faces. Just as his pronouncements seem to be crafted to scupper our attempts to get the measure of his personality, Picabia’s method of dispensing with multiple styles of painting would suggest that the artist truly did not see the job of painting as a labour of love, but as another device with which to destabilise us. However, for all his arm’s-length appropriation of different genres, it is through cubism, with its implicit sense of fragmentation, that Picabia seems to speak to us with his own voice.


Francis Picabia: ‘Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction’ is at MoMA New York from November 21, 2016 to March 19, 2017.

Picabia at MoMA

Picabia at Kunsthaus Zurich

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Author: Robbie O'Halloran

Artist and writer working in London

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