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Diana Widmaier-Picasso, Curating an Exhibition Devoted to her Mother Maya

Published on , by Éric Jansen

Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter's granddaughter is staging an exhibition devoted to her mother, Maya, at the Gagosian Gallery in Paris. A chance to discover some unknown pieces.

Diana Widmaier-Picasso Diana Widmaier-Picasso, Curating an Exhibition Devoted to her Mother Maya
Diana Widmaier-Picasso
© Photo Gilles Bensimon

Before the summer, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the grandson of Picasso and Olga, opened the Boisgeloup house temporarily. Now Diana Widmaier-Picasso, granddaughter of the master and Marie-Thérèse Walter, is curating an exhibition devoted to her mother Maya at the Gagosian Gallery in Paris. At a time when the Musée Picasso is celebrating the artist through his work of 1932, "an erotic year" symbolising his relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter, Diana is keen to continue to highlight and analyse her grandfather's work.

You are now a specialist in Picasso's work, but this was hardly the case when you started out…
That's true. I did a Masters in Law and another in Art History, in view of becoming an auctioneer. I spent all my time at Drouot, where I did a huge number of courses. I adored it. But I didn't take the exam. I decided to specialise in Old Master drawings at the Met in New York for two years, then at Sotheby's in London, and then in Paris.  

Was this because you wanted to develop an identity uninfluenced by your grandfather?
I didn't want people to talk to me about Picasso; besides I didn’t go by Picasso, but Widmaier. I wanted to discuss Old Master drawings, gold and silver work, antiquity – but not Picasso. I became a specialist in several areas. Then one day, I said to myself that I should also be in phase with my own times, and take an interest in modernity. But studying Giotto or Picasso is the same thing for me.

Is this exhibition a version of the one you staged at Gagosian New York in 2016?
No. The exhibition "Picasso’s Picassos" featured twenty or so works belonging to my mother, but not necessarily with her as the subject. She only featured in two paintings. This is a new angle. Werner Spies had staged an exhibition on Picasso and the world of children, but there was never one devoted solely to portraits of Maya. People will discover unknown works, some belonging to my mother: portraits, drawings, photos, films and so on. For example, I've found a series of photos by Edward Quinn, showing her with her father. This was a very moving discovery for her.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), "Maya au tablier", 1938. Picasso's daughter was aged 3 at the time.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), "Maya au tablier", 1938. Picasso's daughter was aged 3 at the time.© Picasso estate 2017 - courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

This year all eyes are on Marie-Thérèse...
This perhaps reveals a change in taste. For a long time, the 1930s were seen as "easy" years, and the tortured side of Dora Maar was more in vogue. And yet Picasso painted some of his most beautiful pictures during this happy period.

Paintings that are setting records at auction!
These paintings were somewhat side-lined, because they were considered too seductive. The focus was on more intellectual works – his Cubist pieces, for example – and this crucial period was only seen in a different light quite recently. It was a time when Picasso focused on monumental sculpture and engraving, too, with the "Suite Vollard". Incidentally, we are exhibiting "La Minotauromachie": the first engraving that shows Marie-Thérèse pregnant with the Minotaur. Maya in gestation!

Why did you create your own publishing company: DWP Editions?
It was founded to draw up the catalogue raisonné of Picasso's sculpture. I realised there was a gap in the research. There is a catalogue on the paintings and drawings (the "Zervos"), and catalogues on the engravings, ceramics and lithographs, but only one book on his sculpture, by Werner Spies, and that's not exhaustive.

How is all that going? You started it fourteen years ago now…
It's not unusual to take so long! There are around two thousand sculptures, according to the standard definition, and we now have extraordinary tools for carrying out research, studying materials, the creative process, and so on. The online book makes it possible to accumulate all this information. For the printed edition, we can't approach it chronologically, and we have to envisage a first thematic volume – on the plasters, for example. I also issue regular publications on small-scale subjects, like the cut-out sheet metal pieces.

In this photo taken by Edward Quinn in 1953 in Vallauris, Picasso is seen with his four children: Paloma, Maya, Claude and Paulo.
In this photo taken by Edward Quinn in 1953 in Vallauris, Picasso is seen with his four children: Paloma, Maya, Claude and Paulo.© Picasso estate 2017 - courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Can you issue authenticity certificates?
No; I thought it was essential to be separate from Picasso Administration. I send all requests to Claude. That's preferable, to make the market secure. There is real pressure from dealers, and I really don't want to spend all my time answering requests. My mother devoted thirty years of her life to that! I remember her, at home, tirelessly investigating whether a work was truly by Picasso's hand. She had the responsibility of being an artist's daughter. This moral right was an obligation for her, a natural response: her way of watching over her father's memory. She did it all on her own, then Claude took over.

To return to the exhibition, how did this collaboration with Larry Gagosian Begin? It can't have overjoyed the museums …
I've worked regularly with him for twelve years now. Let's be honest: nowadays, it's tough for museums to put on major exhibitions, which cost a lot. In the US, when a museum wants to acquire a work, it tries to work hand in hand with dealers. This is more difficult in Paris; there's always a feeling of distrust. It should also be said that when I collaborated with Larry for the first time, he was not at all involved in modern art. It wasn't museum curators or members of my family who were unhappy, but the other dealers! I felt that it was good for Picasso to mix him with contemporary artists and their collectors.  

This provides remarkable credit and a museum-quality rubber stamp for the Gagosian Gallery, but what do you gain from it?
People don't realise how much work is involved. Larry Gagosian has an extraordinary team who deal with research, the transport of works and insurance. When we did the exhibition on Marie-Thérèse, some paintings had been locked up in bank vaults, and it was a unique occasion to see them and compare them with other paintings. This triggered enormous interest from art historians and collectors. A huge amount of information was gathered, which resulted in a book. Larry is someone who does things really seriously; he wants his publications to go down in posterity.

"Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter". Gagosian Gallery, Paris.  
Until 22 December 2017.
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