‘Picasso’s mistake was his arrogance. He assumed he could represent all of the perspectives. And our mistake was to invalidate the perspective of a 17-year-old girl because we believed her potential would never equal his.” So declares Hannah Gadsby in her live comedy special Nanette. Did Picasso have an arrogance problem? Perhaps—and many would say he earned the right to it. Has Gadsby—a dreadfully unfunny comedian who owes her prominence to saying things that the academic, media, and political trifecta wants to hear—earned the right to curate a museum exhibit on the legacy of a great artist? Maybe not in a cultural era when art museums were something other than vehicles for propaganda—but that’s not the era we live in.
In her absurdly titled upcoming show, It’s Pablo-matic, Gadsby will present works by Picasso alongside those of a number of major women artists at the Brooklyn Museum. According to the news release, the show will re-examine Picasso’s legacy “through a critical, contemporary, and feminist lens … even as it acknowledges his work’s transformative power and lasting influence.” The absurdity should be lost on no one: Gadsby told lame jokes about a great artist in a comedy special and thereby earned the right to curate that artist at a major museum. Gadsby’s Picasso exhibition is only the latest sign that ideological conformity trumps all other values in today’s art world.
What exactly does It’s Pablo-matic hope to achieve? Adult humans should be aware that greatness in creative achievement doesn’t always coincide with good behavior. Furthermore, everyone knows that Picasso was a womanizer. We have already decided as a culture to celebrate Picasso’s greatness while knowing that many of his subjects were his paramours, and that he didn’t always treat them wonderfully. Does Gadsby think she can change our minds?