Suzanne Preston Blier


      Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. 1907. Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8" New York: Museum of Modern Art. 

September 21, 2021.

Suzanne Preston Blier, Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, discusses her award-winning book, Picasso's Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece (Duke UP, 2019).

“It is a condition of masterworks that they attract, even demand, interpretation and reinterpretation. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a case in point. In 1946, Alfred Barr called it ‘a battlefield of trial and experiment’ marking ‘the beginning of a new period in the history of modern art.’ Twenty-six years later, Leo Steinberg argued that its psychic and pictorial ‘violence’ resides in its power of displacement, in ‘the startled consciousness of a viewer who sees himself seen.’ Others have examined its ‘primitivism’ and l’art negre as central to its power and originality. Now, Suzanne Blier, through a close textual and visual analysis of an astonishing range of references, argues that Picasso’s creativity ‘involved both drawing on and subverting the past’ while reimagining the present and creating the future anew. Blier's study rewards close reading, just as the painting rewards close and sustained looking.” — James Cuno, President and CEO, The J. Paul Getty Trust

“Combining the specialized skills of an art historian with the zeal of a detective, Suzanne Preston Blier offers a bold and transformative re-reading of the Demoiselles. She startlingly shifts the interpretive foundations of Picasso and the Demoiselles: she shows us a Picasso not as bombastic egotist but as capacious globalist; not as masculine master fixated on female sexuality and its attendant anxieties, but as explorer of the power and presence of women and their generative capacities. This provocative and pathbreaking book scrambles the logic of modernism, primitivism, and feminism in the discipline of art history.” — Debora Silverman, author of Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art


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