Open since 4 October 2016 at the National Picasso Museum in Paris, the duo-exhibition of works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti will run until 5 February 2017 and then be shipped to Doha (Qatar). This “dialogue” between Modern Art’s most prominent masters is the first of its kind and has been made possible thanks to an exceptional loan from the Giacometti Foundation, other loans from major international collectors and the ingenious vision of Catherine Grenier, Director of the Giacometti Foundation and co-curator of the exhibition.
The interaction between these two giants of the 20th century – beginning in 1931 (after meeting via Joan Miro) – generated a series of friendly exchanges, some of which are described in Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966)’s diaries, and a number of more specifically artistic exchanges concerning their mutual developments and their ability to stretch the limits of figuration and representation in general. Despite the 20-year age gap and despite the fact that the young Giacometti (30 at the time) was talking to a man who had already become the most famous artist of the century, their relationship appears to have been balanced and by no means unilateral. Like many others artists at the time, the year they met they were both engaged in Surrealist experimentation. Giacometti was part of the Surrealist group founded by Breton, while Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973), although he maintained his independence, also explored the extensive artistic and mental possibilities opened by Surrealism. The Picasso-Giacometti exhibition highlights certain similarities between the works created during the Surrealist period. However, there is much more to it than that, as it has been organised into eight chapters (from self-portraits to foreign influences [Cyclades, Africa, Oceania, etc.]).
The fact that such a prestigious exhibition should be moving from Paris to Qatar does of course reflect a reality of today’s art market. For the gas-rich State, the exhibition represents a new cultural challenge with roughly a hundred works by Picasso and Giacometti that will be exhibited in Doha’s Fire Station Center from 22 February to 21 May 2017, including some highly emblematic works like Picasso’s La Chèvre (1950) and Giacometti’s Grande Femme (1960). In art market terms, both artists have enjoyed the world’s highest-ever bids, many of Qatari origin. Qatar’s royal family, one of the most active art collectors on the planet, has a strong appetite for the major signatures in Western Modern Art. Under the patronage of Sheikha Al-Mayassa, the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) has acquired numerous masterpieces in recent years, unlocking billions of dollars for this purpose. The QMA’s collections have acquired some of the world’s most expensive artworks including Mark ROTHKO (1903-1970)’s White Center ($72.8 million in 2007) and Paul CÉZANNE (1839-1906)’s Card Players (paid over $250 million according to Alexandra Peers in Vanity Fair’s article, Qatar Purchases Cezanne’s The Card Players for More Than $250 Million, Highest Price Ever for a Work of Art, 2 February 2012). For several years now the Qatari royal family has been pursuing a cultural policy designed to enhance its ‘Soft Power’ on the global map and turn Doha into a major tourist destination. With Picasso’s and Giacometti’s statuses as the two giants of Modern Art and the most expensive artists in the world, the exhibition is particularly welcome for Qatar’s burgeoning museum industry.
Year after year, exhibition after exhibition, museum after museum… Qatar’s modernization programme is rapidly taking shape. A new Qatar National Museum will soon be opening with 40,000 square meters designed by the French architect and Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel. Another eagerly awaited inauguration, since nowadays a museum’s ability to attract crowds depends much on its architectural appeal as on its artistic offer.