Monday, February 4, 2013

Manhattan's Hidden Picasso

Just off busy Houston Street and tucked away inside a sleepy central courtyard of apartment buildings in lower Manhattan sits a massive Picasso sculpture. I discovered the Bust of Sylvette (1967) one day when I was wandering around New York with no particular place to go after checking out the annual Armory Show. She is about 6 stories high and is made of a granular concrete with dark sandblasted lines. Picasso's famous Cubist method is rendered by three-dimensional folds allowing the viewer to have different points of perspective into one complete essence of the piece. These bends in the concrete allow shards of sunlight to play on and around the sculpture. I recently saw two small painted metallic mock-ups at the Black and White Picasso show at the Guggenheim. Here, those comparatively tiny models (just twenty-six inches high) have come to life. The giant reinterpretation was executed by the world-famous Spaniard in coordination with Norwegian artist, Carl Nesjar.
The two sides of Sylvette

The model for the piece, a young nineteen year old Sylvette David, appears in the work of Picasso's later years as the "girl with the blonde ponytail". After achieving fame across Europe for being Picasso's muse and for her striking good looks, she later changed her name to Lydia to validate her own art career.

The Brutalist style buildings surrounding the Sylvette sculpture in lower Manhattan are designed by I.M. Pei are part of the NYU Campus. The sculpture itself was a gift to NYU by Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil (philanthropist, patron of the arts, and notable lawyer) in 1968. A similar public sculpture was purchased by the city of Rotterdam. Picasso himself never visited the United States, but this giant artwork certainly makes his presence felt.

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