Natasha Staller Offers a New Look at Picasso, His Artistic Imagination and Cubism
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Natasha Staller, associate professor of fine arts at Amherst College, is the author of A Sum of Destructions: Picasso’s Cultures and the Creation of Cubism ($50, Yale University Press, London, 2002), a study of the historical and cultural antecedents that the dominant painter of the 20th century recreated and the first study of “the degree to which revolutionary Cubism was saturated with Picasso’s past.” Staller excavates Picasso’s most fundamental lifelong attitudes, which all, she says, were formed in provincial Málaga. She demonstrates how his art responded to a series of deracinations, of moving from region to region, language to language, customs to customs.
A Sum of Destructions considers the many cultures that inspired the Spanish artist, from his “enchanted culture of childhood” in Málaga, to the “technical virtuosity” he acquired in conservative Spanish academies of art, to “the romance of popular culture” he found in advertisements and films, to the “belief that the defeat of the African Moor made Spain ‘modern.’” Picasso’s art, Staller writes, was born in “a vast panorama of different climates, geographies, flora and fauna, marked by waves of natural catastrophes, by economic disasters and social repercussions, by historical myths of great remembered holy wars and a down and dirty political present, by often calcified institutions, and by technological inventions like the cinema.”
Staller considers much new, often archival, material: from coded messages señoritas sent with fans to ritual re-enactments of holy wars, from enchanted characters of fairy tales to superstitions, bullfighting treatises, provincial art-school manuals, three-minute films and Picasso’s childhood works his parents saved from the time he was nine.
A Sum of Destructions portrays Picasso as a thoroughly modern artist on a resolutely traditional quest: “Struggling to make sense of experience,” Staller writes, “to make meaning, to make beauty—even as he redefined what was beautiful—goes to the core of what it means to be human.”
Staller, educated at Wellesley College (A.B.) and Harvard University (Ph.D.), has taught at Amherst since 1992, after teaching at Princeton University and the University of Chicago. She has had fellowships at Harvard (Society of Fellows), Yale (Getty Fellowship/ Whitney Humanities Center), the University of Pennsylvania (Mellon Fellowship) and Radcliffe College (Bunting Institute.) Working on The Sum of Destructions for more than 20 years, Staller has lectured on Picasso’s re-creation of his cultural heritage in museums and universities, published parts of the book in Arts Magazine, Art Bulletin, Art History and the catalog of Picasso: The Early Years (1997), an exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
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