The Juan Gris Exhibition at the DMA Is Essential Viewing to Understand the Cubist Movement

"Fantômas," painted in 1915 by that other Spanish cubist, Juan Gris.
"Fantômas," painted in 1915 by that other Spanish cubist, Juan Gris.
Lillian Michael
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Normally, you should be able to maintain a safe distance from others while still enjoying the space to explore art — unless you're at the Louvre, of course, gawking at the "Mona Lisa." Lately, it seems many people's concept of distance and space is as thwarted as a cubist painting, and those who are ready to return to public spaces have the opportunity to explore cubism in all its forms through a new exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The museum is exhibiting 40 pieces from Spanish artist Juan Gris with Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris, which runs until July 25.

The collaborative exhibition between the DMA and the Baltimore Museum of Art showcases works by Gris for the first time in over 30 years.

The artist, who was born José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González Pérez in Madrid in 1887, "was one of the primary contributors to the development of Cubism in the early 20th century,” says the DMA's statement. The collection captures Gris' revolutionary, innovative style and follows the development of his early work up to the year before his death from kidney failure at age 40 in 1927.

Gris was a satirical cartoonist who contributed illustrations to anarchist publications. Like his friend Modigliani, Gris moved to Paris in 1906, where he befriended Montmartre-frequenting luminaries such as Guillaime Apollinaire and Henri Matisse and impressed art collector and lifelong patron Gertrude Stein.

Six years after arriving in Paris, Gris displayed his first work in a public exhibition, a portrait of fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who would become a mentor to Gris. Yet, as Stein once wrote, "Juan Gris was the only person whom Picasso wished away."

Gris differentiated himself from Picasso by moving on to a subset of the movement known as "synthetic cubism," which made heavy use of collaging. In his later years, health issues prompted his move to the south of France, where he designed sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes.

The exhibition displays the artist's focused fascination with everyday life. Whether a portrait of a guitar or pot of flowers, Gris captivates viewers through the unfamiliar in the familiar.

“His exquisite compositions explore the boundary between abstraction and representation, tension and stasis, color and form,” wrote the DMA.

From his early, simplified geometric pattern manipulations to a more pronounced experimental style that dealt with perception illusionism, Gris’ work is just as significant to the movement as the work of other cubist pioneers such as Picasso and Georges Braque.

Gris’ work reveals the era's new perspective and the motivation of aspiring artists. In a short life, Gris’ paintings made a significant impact that completed the artistic movement and pushed art lovers to view life outside of an ordinary view. His life’s work serves as a guide to experimentation, regardless of who’s looking.

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