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by Norman Mailer

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87113-608-2
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

A puzzling and unconventional excursion into art history by an unexpected author. In an unusual change of pace after Oswald's Tale (p. 363), Mailer sets out to make the legendary Picasso "real." In an admittedly personal interpretation of his life, psyche, and art, Mailer focuses on the artist's early years. Presumably, he feels that Picasso's greatest achievements as a painter came out of the period from the turn of the century to the end of WW I. It is also one of the most seductive periods in French cultural history and the era of his involvement with Fernande Olivier, who emerges as the heroine of Mailer's tale. We witness the events of Picasso's early career primarily through the eyes of this jilted lover whose two memoirs are quoted from extensively. Mailer lavishes an unseemly amount of attention on Oiivier, subjecting us to the lurid details of her coming of age, brutal marriage, and sexual awakening. She functions, too, as a masturbatory diversion (of which there are many here) for the author: "With Fernande, he [Picasso] had entered the essential ambiguity of deep sex, where one's masculinity or femininity is forever turning into its opposite, so that a phallus, once implanted in a vagina, can become more aware of the vagina than its own phallitude. . . ." While Mailer admits--correctly--that he makes no contributions to the already vast Picasso scholarship, the author does offer a number of peculiar and unconvincing explanations for shifts in the aesthetic direction of Picasso's work. What "altered the ground of cubism altogether," for example, and led Picasso to "never feel respect for himself again" was an incident in which he and Guillaume Apollinaire were wrongly implicated in a plot to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Mailer's biography, following in the footsteps of Arianna Huffington's notorious Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, a work Mailer unabashedly admires, emphasizes gossip and sex and leaves you wondering, "So what?"