As an artist, Spaniard Pablo Picasso was known for breaking traditional rules around art.
He painted two-dimensional images, oblitering the depth that artists strived to create for centuries. He turned objects into geometric shapes. And he showed how one of his patrons, Gertrude Stein, would look many years into the future. Other women, as well as men, ended up looking completely different from themselves in Picasso’s art.
In a similar vein, the cocreator of Imagine Picasso: The Immersive Exhibition, enjoys challenging conventional notions about how paintings should be displayed.
In a Zoom interview with the Straight from her home in France, Annabelle Mauger points out that the show will feature giant versions of Picasso’s art on the floor of the Vancouver Convention Centre, as well as on walls and the ceilings. Some paintings will appear upside down.
“When you are putting a painting on a wall, you have the frames and the frames hang on a hook,” Mauger said. “And it goes straight because of gravity. In an immersive exhibition, I don’t have gravity. It’s just projection.”
As a result, Picasso’s famous painting about the Spanish Civil War, Guernica, can appear anywhere. Picasso deliberately did not use any red in what’s considered one of his most powerful works, but Mauger has added splashes of this colour on the floor for Imagine Picasso. That was to serve as a reminder of the violence depicted in the painting’s gruesome images of the bombing of a Spanish village.
“Picasso was 50 when someone asked, ‘How does he want an exhibition of his paintings made?’ And he said ‘I want it made badly,’ ” Mauger noted. “That’s a Picasso answer.”
The exhibition was created with the permission of the Picasso family. It includes more than 200 works of art, including one painting done when he was just eight years old.
In the early 2000s, Mauger came across Cathédrale d’Images in an underground quarry in Baux-de-Provence. Considered the world’s first immersive art exhibition, the installation—known as Image Totale—was invented by French photographer Albert Plécy in 1977.
In 2001, she began using this technology to create an immersive exhibition of the works of Vincent Van Gogh, which will end its run at the Vancouver Convention Centre on October 31. In 2018, Mauger and Julien Baron completed the Picasso show, relying on his works of art housed in France, Spain, the United States, and Japan, among other places.
Before deciding to become totally absorbed in an artist, Mauger always asks herself the same question: “Why do I want to do an immersive exhibition about this painter? Why? That is the only question that is important and I have to answer it.”
In the case of Van Gogh, she felt a need to show the two faces of the artist—his sadness and his sense of joy—that were reflected in his paintings.
For Picasso, she was determined to address a couple of big issues.
First, Mauger wanted to create an “impossible exhibition” of his work by including paintings not permitted to leave where they are housed in France and Spain. Guernica and Portrait of Dora Maar, for instance, are in the collections of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and Musée Picasso in Paris, respectively.
In addition, she says that people often look at Picasso as a “genius” rather than as a person who went through various phases and worked extremely hard at his art. Mauger felt a need to get beyond the genius label.
For the record, she says that she didn’t watch the National Geographic Genius series about Picasso, starring Antonio Banderas in the title role.
According to Mauger, immersive exhibitions are for everybody because they attract people of all ages, including young people who don’t feel that they can go to museums. Plus, she loves the sense of community that’s created with her immersive art shows, which also include music to set the tone.
“When you are in a museum, you are kind of alone,” she says. “You have to be silent.”
In an immersive exhibition, on the other hand, people can sing, jump, and enjoy a dialogue of sorts with the painter. Children can offer their observations to their parents and grandparents without older adults worrying about disturbing others.
Near the end of the interview, the Straight asked Mauger if she has a favourite Picasso painting. She doesn’t hesitate before answering The Kiss, saying it reflects “all the faces of love”.
“For me, this Kiss means everything.”