Last month, an art teacher and her students staged a demonstration at the Picasso Museum protesting the artist’s treatment of women. The group arrived on May 27 at the Barcelona institution with black-and-white t-shirts that read “Picasso, women abuser” and “Picasso, the shadow of Dora Maar,” referring to the artist’s one-time partner, whom he is believed to have abused.
Maria Llopis, an artist and teacher based in Benicàssim, Spain, organized the event as part of a course on art and feminism she teaches at the Barcelona art school Escola Massana. The goal of the protest, Llopis said in an email to Artnet News, was “to speak out. To talk about what really happened. To say the truth about many women artists who can not develop their creativity.”
“We made an open call to encourage the Picasso museum to look straight into this reality and curate exhibitions about it in their temporary exhibitions space,” she continued.
Llopis referred to the demonstration as a “silent action.” Museum guards followed the teacher and her students on site but did not speak to or otherwise engage with the group.
The reaction online, meanwhile, has been more intense. Llopis said she’s received threats related to the incident; for that reason, Instagram closed her personal account down.
Representatives from the Picasso Museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in an interview with Reuters, museum director Emmanuel Guigon said he respected the intent of the protest.
“We cannot look at Picasso’s work and life as we did 20, 40, or 50 years ago,” Guigon said. “It can always be looked at with new and critical eyes, but we will not remove Picasso’s work from art history.” He added that exhibitions and a public talk on the issue are currently in the works.
Picasso’s abusive treatment of Maar and other women in his life is well-documented by historians and biographers. “He submitted [women] to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas,” the artist’s granddaughter Marina Picasso wrote in her memoir. “After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”
Numerous protests against the artist and the institutions that canonize him without a second thought have been mounted in recent years. In 2018, performance artist Emma Sulkowicz visited Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at the Museum of Modern Art in New York wearing asterisks on her body. Later that same year, artist and activist Michelle Hartney added her own wall text next to a Picasso painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, drawing attention to the infamous quote often attributed to him: “Each time I leave a woman, I should burn her. Destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.”