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With Picasso, there’s always a Plan B

Pablo Picasso's grandson speaks about the Museo Picasso Mlaga, and the art of loaning artworks

Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Pablo’s grandson. Photo: Paroma Mukherjee/HT
Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Pablo’s grandson. Photo: Paroma Mukherjee/HT

The name Picasso carries much heft. Although there was a big art opening at Delhi’s Bikaner House on the evening of 7 February, a few kilometres away, India Habitat Centre’s Silver Oak conference room was spilling over with people. The object of their curiosity? Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Pablo’s grandson. Visiting India after a gap of 40 years, Ruiz-Picasso was in Delhi as part of DAG’s programme of talks and panel discussions to celebrate the gallery’s 25th anniversary.

Ruiz-Picasso is a big name in the art world—he’s the co-director, with his mother, Christine Ruiz-Picasso, of Museo Picasso Málaga (MPM) in Spain. The museum, housed in the 16th century Buenavista Palace, a Spanish national monument, holds 233 of Pablo Picasso’s works—one of the largest collections of the artist’s prodigious output. Picasso died when Ruiz-Picasso was 14. “It was my grandfather’s dream to have his museum in Málaga, but it wasn’t possible because of (Francisco) Franco’s dictatorship. Unfortunately, Franco outlived him, and there was no way my grandfather could return," Ruiz-Picasso said at the talk. His father and Picasso’s son, Paulo Ruiz-Picasso, died two years later, in 1975, and it was left to his wife and son to rekindle the idea of a museum in 1996. The Museo Picasso was inaugurated in 2003, with the king and queen of Spain in attendance.

The MPM’s collection comes from various members of the extensive Picasso family, as well as pieces that are on long-term loan to the museum. Ruiz-Picasso also runs a foundation with his wife, the gallerist and artist Almine Rech, called the Fundacíon Almine Y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso Para El Arte (Faba), which works with other museums and galleries to loan out and study Picasso’s works. The foundation also promotes contemporary art, working with both institutions and artists.

I met Ruiz-Picasso, 59, the next morning at his hotel suite. From his interactions on stage the previous evening, I had learnt that he liked specific questions. I wanted to know more about the work he did with the foundation and the museum.

“The foundation was created in 2003, in conjunction with the opening of the MPM. My mother, my wife and I thought that a foundation like this was the most appropriate tool for the museum," Ruiz-Picasso says about Faba. “We are a rather small foundation, a non-profit organization. We have a small team, and we are also small in terms of the economic support that we receive, and also what we give back. But we’re important in terms of loaning works, and also the long-term relationship that we have with certain museums and institutions," he says.

The list of contemporary art museums and galleries that Faba works with is quite impressive. One is the Whitechapel Gallery in London, incidentally, the gallery where Guernica was displayed on the painting’s first and only visit to Britain in 1939. There’s also London’s Serpentine Gallery, New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

“We give support directly to the institutions or exhibitions. We also work with artists, but we didn’t like the idea of setting up an artists’ prize or events which provide money to artists. We rather prefer to sometimes pay for the flight and stay of the artists, as assistance," Ruiz-Picasso explains. He believes this kind of practical funding actually helps artists. “It’s sometimes very, very important in order for the artist to create his own artwork in the context of a show," he says. In the past two years, Faba has supported the Kunsthalle Basel for the exhibition Ungestalt (19 May-13 August 2017) and the artist Marina Pinsky’s Dyed Channel exhibition (22 January-17 April 2016), while extending support to the Musée National Picasso in Paris for an international symposium on Picasso’s sculptures.

“I own a big house next to Paris, and recently we have been hosting different contemporary art events for the Picasso Sculpture Studio," says Ruiz-Picasso. The house he’s referring to is the Château de Boisgeloup in Gisors. This is where Picasso created some of his sculpture assemblages in the 1930s. It’s also where he created the paintings of his lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, that are considered among his best works. “We try to keep the foundation human-sized, not too big," he adds.

At the talk, Ruiz-Picasso had spoken about the continuing importance of research into Picasso’s works. He had said that the 21st century might ask different questions of the artist. So how does the MPM work with scholars, I ask him. “This is a family museum, built with the participation of the local government (the regional government of Andalusia). When we created the museum in 2003, we were like a baby. Since then, we’ve been creating the content of the institution, as well as educational programmes, lectures, conferences. We created a research centre only last year. We feel that we’re now mature enough to knock on the doors of other museums and say, ‘Hey, we want you to come and do research,’" he says, laughing.

As the home for Picasso’s works as well as the family’s extensive archive of letters, photographs and countless other artefacts, preservation and restoration form a big part of MPM’s work. Ruiz-Picasso says it’s the museum’s duty to provide to exhibitions and put up exhibits of its own. “So we have the responsibility of preserving the artwork we’re loaning. These days, the coordination with professionals with different specialities, like art handlers, curators, registrars and conservators, is much better. This makes it easier to loan the artworks," he says.

Even then, I wonder, is there an upper limit to the number of works that the museum might lend? Ruiz-Picasso smiles and says: “Well, it depends. The shortest period for setting up an exhibition is about eight-12 months. Usually, it takes two years. So every participant in a project, including us, adapts to the conditions. Sometimes it can be problematic if different people want to see the same things. Luckily, with Picasso, there’s always a second option, a ‘Plan B’." How so, I ask. “His (Picasso’s) production was so vast that sometimes when I don’t have the right work, which is often the case, I can go to another museum, or call up a family member and say, ‘Hey, can you provide what is missing in our show?’ It’s a collaboration, you know?"

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