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Written by Adam Parente

            It was the summer of 2007, still the dawn of a new century in art terms. My work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City ran most of my day. As I walked the monumental halls of the chapel-like museum, I was conducting a tour for a group of about 20-30 guests. Like every tour I guided, there were always some artworks that were hard to understand and lecture about. But for this tour, we had a new piece, and we eventually came upon that influential piece of art, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Some elderly women in the front row awed in its presence while they awaited my introduction. Then the rest of the large group followed behind them briefly, and I could already tell they didn’t share the same respect. I began speaking as needed.

“Alright, folks, here we come upon….Picasso’s art-changing Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” I said nervously.

It wasn’t a terrible approach, but I was officially lacking any further opinion as I stared at it. What do I say about this kind of artwork? I wasn’t ready for it. Just as my desperate description neared, there were some various murmurs of disagreement in the crowd on the quality of the painting. The corner of the museum seemed to suddenly freeze in place, with all eyes on me, and anticipating my expertise to follow.  At first, I was at a sudden loss of words. Then it came to me. I think Pablo Picasso was near, because I felt a pressure to not screw up one of his greatest achievements. What followed was not what I would have thought unless I was one of the guests in front of me. I had to look at the artwork with an open-mind, and explain what I saw from my own perspective.

“Picasso’s work isn’t inferior or unskilled. It’s made this way for a reason. Imagine someone who could paint something to life, creating something so unorthodox on purpose. It was Cubism, his new style. He is the father of art as we know it today, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is significant because of what it portrays, considering its birth period. It is said that this visual changed society’s view of women’s suffering, and how we see art.”

I continued with the sole desire to bring justice to such a painting.

“All you might see is a group of nude women, but there is so much more to it. They are nudists, prostitutes to be exact; and their messages made an impact to 20th century opinions; such as unbridled lust, corruption, and the secret pains their lives being destroyed. Notice the woman on the left as she appears to be removing or pulling a curtain open, revealing not just herself, but the other prostitutes, as if to say “Look at us. This is what the world is coming to.”

“The 20th century was an eye-opening period that dawned huge growths of chaos, self-assertion, and rights for our society. During a time that women didn’t have many privileges or strong influences, Picasso reveals these women as slaves and pets to man-kind, struggling to find their way and know the truth. The second woman on the left appears to not even be standing, as if she has no foundation in her life. The woman in the middle, though covered a little more, is in the same light with her arms raised behind her head as if depicting her vulnerability to faithlessness and sorrow.”

Suddenly, I could see the attention from the tour group beginning to focus more on Picasso’s work. No one was looking at me anymore. My voice into Picasso’s world had become enlightenment to them. I continued by looking back into the faces of those first three drawn women. I realized something peculiar about their eyes.

“Now, in 1906, Picasso painted an image of Gertrude Stein, another artist and good friend of Pablo. One of her eyes seems to be recycled in the first three women in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It looks like he reshaped them, altered them, and gave them new meaning to fit the meaning of the scene.”

The group soaked the information in, allowing me the cue to go on.

“As we look further, we notice the last two women on the right, with masks unlike the facial expressions of the previous three. They’re wearing African masks, hiding from society’s assumptions, fearing the opinions that would follow. The one sitting down appears on a different plane than the rest, with her head almost turned completely around, as if a hand is holding her chin and forcing her to turn. What can be gathered from this is the abuse and terrible anguish that the women feel. Picasso’s ability to relay this message is easily expressed through the angular shapes, lines, and breaks in the art; revealing an insurmountable sum of tension in the setting.”

The group was strongly immersed in the work.

“I guarantee despite its placement in the painting, you may not even notice that there is fruit in the artwork. It represents a still-life, and the idea that not all purity has left this brothel.”

Some of the guests began noticing particular parts and whispering to their significant others about the evidence of some of the metaphors I had mentioned. I was ready to finish the description with a sense of satisfaction.

“I personally find the power and authority that these women are controlled by to be so daunting, that they are almost proud to let us know that they’re hurting, that they want out, and that certain freedoms lie ahead. As fitting as that made it, the 20th century ended up becoming the century of women’s rise in society. The centuries preceding Les Demoiselles d’Avignon gave no sense of independency. Whether we agree with it or not, while Picasso was a womanizer, little did he realize that he would help pave a small path to prosperity for women to enjoy today. And he did it by breaking the rules of art. That alone is an extraordinary feat.”

With that said, I concluded my sentiments and allowed everyone to finish walking by before I moved on. Those that questioned Picasso’s brilliance earlier gave Les Demoiseilles d’Avignon one last glance as they passed. Then they looked at me once more with a discovery of gratitude and approval, cracking a smile from ear to ear. Whether it was for the artwork or my explanation, I did not care. All I knew was that Picasso was smiling too.

Don’t forget to purchase your tickets to the opening reception for the Pablo Picasso: The Diary of a Master Art Exhibition benefiting the Florida Hospital for Children on Saturday, Feb 18th from 7:30pm-10:30pm! A limited number of tickets are available. Entry per individual is $50. Visit the event page here to get yours now! General Admission will open Feb. 20th and continue through May 5th. A donation of $5 for entry is suggested.


Sayre, Henry M. The Humanities Culture, Continuity, & Change, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River; Prentice Hall. 2008-2012.

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