The Brooklyn Museum has dismissed negative reviews of “It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby,” which opened to the public today after being panned in ARTnews and the New York Times.
The show, co-organized by Gadsby and Brooklyn Museum senior curators Catherine Morris and Lisa Small, features more than 100 works. Alongside many Picassos, there are contemporary works by Cecily Brown, Judy Chicago, Renee Cox, Käthe Kollwitz, Dindga McCannon, Ana Mendieta, Marilyn Minter, Joan Semmel, and Faith Ringgold.
“The Pablo-ms begin before you even enter the first gallery,” wrote Alex Greenberger in ARTnews. “Above the show’s loud, red signage on the museum’s ground floor, there’s a 26-foot-long painting by Cecily Brown, Triumph of the Vanities II (2018), featuring an orgy of brushy forms set against a fiery background. The painting looks back to the bacchanalia of Rococo painting and the intensity of Eugène Delacroix’s hues. It has little to say about Picasso, an artist whom Brown has spoken of admiringly.”
New York Times critic Jason Farago was even more scathing in his review of the show. “The ambitions here are at GIF level, though perhaps that is the point,” he wrote.
Adlan Jackson’s review for Hell Gate put a finer point on it. Its headline was “Don’t Go to ‘It’s Pablo-matic.’”
In response to the reviews, Small posted a photo of her with Morris and Gadsby on her Instagram story with the caption “that feeling when it’s Pablo-Matic gets (male) art critics’ knickers in a twist.” Morris reposted the image to her Instagram stories, adding, “A @nytimes critic got very emotional about our show,” along with a GIF of the words “sorry not sorry.”
The museum’s director of digital communications, Brooke Baldeschwiler, posted an Instagram story featuring a video about the exhibition starring Gadsby with the caption “Come @ us haters.”
The collaboration with Gadsby came out of the 2018 hit Netflix special Nanette, which included heavy criticism of Picasso and his influence. Picasso “just put a kaleidoscope filter” on his penis when he helped start the Cubist movement, Gadsby claimed.
“It’s Pablo-matic” is one of many exhibitions being staged this year to mark the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death. On the podcast This Week in Art, produced by the Art Newspaper, Small called the 50th anniversary invitation from the Musée Picasso the “perfect opportunity to partner” with Gadsby.
Morris told This Week in Art that the show was conceived around the themes of power in the art market and feminist art history, especially in the years since Picasso died.
After the publication of the negative reviews, the museum also sent out an email blast from Morris and Small, explaining why they mounted the show.
Perhaps no artist enjoys as much global name recognition as Pablo Picasso. In the fifty years since his death in 1973, culture—and art history—have undergone sweeping changes. The way we look at Picasso has changed, too. Let’s talk about how. The past fifty years have encompassed, among many other social movements, the rise of feminism. And so, to mark this anniversary, we are exploring questions about his legacy by displaying Picasso’s art alongside works by a range of women artists.
We think it’s time to add another layer to our understanding of this towering figure of modernism. Museums are, after all, a place where the past and present meet. As curators, we believe our exhibitions should encourage and hold space for nuanced dialogues, even if they are uncomfortable.
And what better way to wade into these waters than with a bit of humor? Comedy is such a powerful tool for sparking conversation and revealing unexpected ideas. That is why we have collaborated with comedian (and, yes, famously outspoken Picasso critic) Hannah Gadsby on this exhibition. With their pointed wit and background in art history, they challenge us to look again. And look differently.
Anne Pasternak, the Brooklyn Museum’s director, wrote an op-ed for the Art Newspaper in which she further explained the show’s genesis. Noting that the point of the exhibition was not to cancel Picasso, she seemed to allude to reviews that extensively quoted—and critiqued—words from Gadsby present throughout the show.
“To those who question whether Gadsby’s voice belongs in this exhibit, I would simply ask: Whose interests are threatened by including it? Or, who benefits from excluding it?” Pasternak wrote.
Farago declined to comment to ARTnews.