“It is, in a way, like making a whole new museum.”
Didier Ottinger, French curator of the NGV’s upcoming world-premiere Picasso exhibition, is speaking to Broadsheet as the first pieces are painstakingly unveiled and hung ahead of The Picasso Century’s opening at NGV International on June 10.
While more than 70 of Pablo Picasso’s masterworks will undoubtedly be the centrepiece of the exhibition, what makes it a world premiere are what they’ll be displayed alongside. Putting Picasso’s works – and the revolutionary Spanish painter’s influence – in artistic and cultural context will be upwards of 100 pieces by his contemporaries.
They’ll be drawn from the NGV’s own collection as well as from two French art institutions: the Musée National Picasso-Paris, and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris’s world-renowned Centre Pompidou, where Ottinger, a noted scholar of 20th-century painting, is deputy director.
“It’s a new experience you can only [create] when you are dealing in a new context, in a new space, for a new audience,” says Ottinger, who’s in Melbourne for the install of the major retrospective, which has taken 10 years from concept to completion. “To be able to gather such important works, we had to select them and protect this list for years.”
Transporting millions of dollars of famous artworks here from Paris was no easy feat, either. “We had to divide the shipments over nine planes,” he says. “For security reasons, we’re not allowed to have a certain amount of price for each shipment.”
They’ll be exhibited across 15 “thematic” sections, traversing Picasso’s extraordinary career – and the 20th century itself. “Today we started displaying works from the cubist section,” Ottinger says. It’s an art style that Picasso pioneered, where different views of the same subject come together, with abstract, fragmented results.
“We’re going slowly now … it’ll be most stressful in the later days,” says Ottinger. “There are 189 [works] so it can be a long, long process.”
More unboxing is to come, then lighting, labelling (to make the interplay between works clear to gallery-goers) and projection installs, which will form a significant part of the exhibition, too. But it’s shaping up to be every bit the blockbuster we were expecting.
The Picasso Century will run from June 10 to October 9 at NGV International. Admission fees apply.