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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2003
This beautifully-illustrated book studies Pablo Picasso's artistic and political work after he joined the French Communist Party in 1944. `An illustrious son of democratic Spain', he opposed Franco, aided the resistance in Paris and championed France's post-war cultural renaissance.
Utley details Picasso's creative efforts and depicts the care and constant reworking with which he conceived, executed and reproduced his designs in different media, whether murals, paintings, sculptures, posters, postcards, prints, brooches, key chains or pottery. She disposes of the well-travelled lie that Picasso admitted that his work was all a blague, a trick played on the public. In fact, as she shows, the alleged conversation was drawn from Il Libro Nero, a collection of fictitious interviews written by Giovanni Papini.
Utley shows how `a strategy elaborated at the highest levels of the American government' presented the art of the New York School as a living manifestation of democracy as opposed to communism. The US state promoted Abstract Expressionism, to make New York supersede Paris as the capital of Western art. It promoted the notion of the Nietzschean artist, the individualistic, introspective genius in his ivory tower, free from all social and political concerns, casting Picasso as the `anti-artist', compromised because committed.
Yet this is a deeply anti-communist account of a good communist. Utley sneers at what she calls the communists' `illusory goal of bridging the gap between art and the people', and at `the inadequacies of the artistic policies and aspirations of the French Communist party'. It is clearly beyond the comprehension of the author, an American academic based at New York University, that Picasso was a loyal and active Party member for the rest of his long life - which says more about the author's limits than the subject's!
Her stale caricature of `repressive Party' and `servile member' fails completely to explain how people of the calibre of Picasso and his friends Paul Robeson, Pablo Neruda, Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard could be Party members. Were they all dupes? Unlike, say, an American academic, who cannot imagine how anyone cannot trust the US state?
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2001
As a working politician over the past sixty years in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, I experienced first-hand the sinister and underhanded role of Communists as putative allies and ultimate enemies. From the American Student Union in the 30's ("The Yanks are not Coming!) to the subversion of the McGovern campaign in 1972, American Communists, as disciplined and treacherous as their counterparts in Russia, sought violent Revolution as their doctrinaire goal under cover of a liberal "alliance" both here and more importantly in the unstable Fourth Republic. Gertje Utley's book, "Picasso, The Communist Years" shows bit by closely honed and researched bit, how Picasso lent his name and prestige to this debilitating process in France. With neither the background nor the political intellect to comprehend the logical consequences of his support for a repressive and hypocritical dictatorship, Picasso became the willing dupe of his Communist masters draining support for liberal political leaders and causes in France and elsewhere during the critical years of Communist dominance over the peoples of Eastern Europe. Utley connects Picasso's art and personality during this period with political views which were naive and egotistical in their origin and mischievous in their application. It is difficult to think of a greater challenge to an art historian than to attempt to describe the aberrational behavior of a great artist and the tangential effect of that behavior on his or her art. Utley's book is a readable and fascinating description of the macabre process by which Picasso was drawn into a realpolitik which aimed to destroy the very basis of his own artistic liberty.
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