1932, That Erotic Year In The Life Of Picasso

An exhibition at the Picasso Museum in Paris explores a key moment in the artist's relationship with his models and his world over the course of a single pivotal year.

Gazing at Marie-Thérèse
Gazing at Marie-Thérèse
Philippe Dagen

PARIS — Why did Pablo Picasso walk by the Galeries Lafayette on Jan. 8, 1927? Was he heading back to his home in the upscale 8th arrondissement of the French capital? Or was he going to the department store to buy a gift for his wife Olga, or a toy for their son, Paulo?

And why was the young Marie-Thérèse Walter at the same place at the same time? Word is that it was because her mother, a milliner, worked in the neighborhood.

They ran into each other. And then Picasso, after introducing himself, is believed to have told the young woman: "Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face, I would like to do your portrait." Next. he supposedly said, "I feel we're going to do great things together," a remark almost too prophetic to be true.

An interesting face and an interesting body: Judging by photographs dating back from when they met, Marie-Thérèse looked like those athletic women with wide shoulders and slender legs that Picasso later painted in his sculptural fashion.

We could deduce from this that Picasso saw in her a form of beauty that was familiar to him, which would begin to explain this singular but decisive encounter in the painter's life and works, as the exhibition "Picasso 1932. Année Érotique" at Paris's Musée Picasso shows.

The exhibition has three protagonists: Olga, Marie-Thérèse and Picasso. In boulevard theater these would be the wife, the mistress and the unfaithful husband, but more analytically, they are the artist and his two models, the old and the new.

The exhibition is interesting because it alternates between two stories, biographical and artistic. It follows the 366 days of the leap year 1932 in the lives of these three people and those around them: poets, shopkeepers, hoteliers and suppliers. Reconstructing this day-to-day chronicle required collecting a plethora of bits and pieces. As it happens, Picasso never threw away anything, and the museum has kept dozens of boxes stuffed with bills, press clippings and letters. This has made it possible to present a very precise story. Among the canvasses, the drawings and the engravings are display cases showing various documents, each more enlightening than the next.

Clues to a life split between wife and mistress

Museum goers who might not have two or three hours to spend on their visit should look at the sad articles by French critics who that year denounced Picasso as the culprit for the decadence of French good taste, reviews that paved the way for Nazi propaganda against "degenerate art." For the opposite reason, visitors should also read the attentive letters and articles from foreign curators and critics about the Picasso retrospective held that fall at the Kunsthaus in Zurich.

In the archive are also clues to a life split between wife and mistress, who would later give birth to Picasso's daughter, Maya, in 1935.

Picasso showed all the external signs of an exemplary life: his son's communion at the St-Augustin church in Paris followed by a visit to the Sacré Cœur, family vacations by the sea, photos showing Mrs. and Mr. Picasso at the Château de Boisgeloup, where he would later create sculptures glorifying Marie-Thérèse.

In 1932 Picasso was still able to visit Marie-Thérèse secretly. This would not have been the case had Olga discovered one of the photographs, now exhibited at the museum, of Marie-Thérèse on the beach, which the mistress sent her lover during the summer, along with letters in which she told him about her days at Juan-les-Pins. These photographs were transformed by the Picasso mental and visual machine into erotic allegories.

This would never have happened had Olga paid closer attention to her husband's work: She would have suspected something was going on had she observed his new fashion of drawing and painting. This new fashion was the Marie-Thérèse language, which Picasso began inventing in 1927, and which in 1932 became the language of his visual poems in honor of the young woman.

The primary signs of that language are the circle, the oval and the sinuous line. One following the other, they depict a face, breasts, arms and hips in curved stylization that form identifiable shapes, even if disproportionate.

These shapes are usually painted in one color with little modulation, or are sometimes enhanced with a smear of white. Sometimes they are harmonies in three tones — grey, almond green and purple — sometimes resounding chromatic orchestrations: Le Repos, dated Jan. 22, Girl before a Mirror, completed on March 14, and Femme couchée à la mèche blonde, from Dec. 21, which seems to announce the most unbridled nudes of Picasso's last years.

He would sketch these anatomical designs on paper, either with a pencil or with ink. Several tests would ensue until one formula emerged, which Picasso would then reproduce on canvas. Except he would not reproduce it as it was. Instead, the drawing would change as he painted it and as color ratios suggested new transformations.

Here too, it would take hours to examine each moment of this experimental method, day after day, hour after hour, from notebooks to canvases. For the exhibition, several sequences have been reconstructed, not entirely but with enough detail so that visitors can follow the process and understand how it worked.

One of these sequences is not dedicated to Marie-Thérèse but to Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece. Although Picasso traveled through Alsace on his way to inaugurate his exhibition in Zurich, he did not stop in Colmar, where the retable is kept, but instead worked from reproductions.

Beyond that, the method is the always the same, be it with the secret mistress or the crucifixion. One study after another, with the second developing a suggestion that appeared in the first, and so on. Although the process remains the same in both cases, Picasso's language is profoundly different. It is no longer that of an erotic ballad but that of tragedy and death, of a martyred body, dismantled skeletal structures, black and white. Picasso's crucifixion from 1932 is Guernica five years before Guernica.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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