“What inspires you?”
For those with an interest in visual art, the question could elicit a response of Diane Arbus, Stan Brakhage, or Jean-Michel Basquiat. However, for many UVA alumni, the answer might very well be the University’s legendary art professor, Lydia Gasman. This month, an exhibit at Les Yeux du Monde gallery entitled “Picasso, Lydia, and Friends 2014” connects a web of influence between Gasman, her peers and students, and the artist who inspired her life’s work, Pablo Picasso.
Gasman grew up in Romania and found fame in Bucharest as an award-winning painter in the 1950s. Moving to Paris in the 1960s, she grew to appreciate modernist art and discovered Picasso. She went on to teach art history at Vassar College, the University of Haifa in Israel, and later, at the University of Virginia.
From her first days in Charlottesville in 1981, Gasman was a legend. Her art history classes regularly overflowed out of lecture halls. From the podium, she possessed a stunning ability to synthesize diverse disciplines into enthralling, if sometimes unexpected, lectures. Gasman’s former student—and the curator of the current Les Yeux du Monde exhibit—Lyn Bolen Warren recalled that “She would break the rules. She’d teach a class on Early Modernism and stay the whole semester on Van Gogh, but wow, you’d learn so much. Students fell in love with her, gave her standing ovations.”
In addition to her teaching, Gasman’s work focused in sharp detail on the life and work of Picasso. Spending years decoding the artist’s symbolism and texts, Gasman permanently changed the course of Picasso scholarship. She re-interpreted the artist’s notes and sketchbook doodles while also re-examining his interest in mysticism, magic, and rituals. Gasman published multiple books and essays on the artist, including an essay on his wartime writings that was included in an exhibition catalogue for the Guggenheim Museum.
After Gasman passed away in 2010, two of her former graduate students, Warren and Victoria Beck Newman, launched the nonprofit Lydia Csato Gasman Archives to honor the friend, artist, and academic. Warren recalls that Gasman “decoded Picasso’s writings, but because we worked with her for so long we know how to decode her writing. She’d have a file for every single class she taught and then she’d write the main points and the pages to back them up and they’d become like artworks in themselves.” Today, the archives seek to inspire the curious and the scholarly alike by preserving and publishing Gasman’s research, her work as an artist and art historian, and her classroom lectures to be used by researchers, scholars, and the public. Ultimately, they hope this will inspire others to build upon her scholarship and continue her legacy.
This legacy also includes the public exhibition of Gasman’s work and that of related artists. An inaugural exhibit was held in 2012 to celebrate the formal launch of the archives, and the current exhibit at Les Yeux du Monde is the follow-up in the bi-annual series to honor Gasman.
Curated by Warren, this exhibit features Gasman’s work alongside prints by Pablo Picasso and original work from Gasman’s colleagues and contemporaries, including Bill Bennett, Anne Chesnutt, Dean Dass, Sanda Iliescu, David Summers, and Russ Warren. Though these artists vary in medium and style, each shares aesthetic, philosophical, or personal ties with the inspirations for the exhibit: Gasman, and in turn, her fascination with Picasso.
Russ Warren’s exhibited work is, in many ways, the most visually similar to well-known Picasso work. However, a closer look begins to reveal further similarities in the work of the other artists: the intonation of a line in Iliescu’s painting that’s reminiscent of Picasso’s bull; Summers’ stylistically similar brushstrokes; the Picasso-like playfulness of Bennett’s sculpture that invites the viewer to interact with it and take part in what feels like an elaborate magic trick. Discussing one of her pieces on display, Iliescu, a professor in the UVA School of Architecture, said that there is “a sense of hope in this collage: an idea that transformation is possible always… that something once old and ungainly or useless and taken-for-granted might attain a special sort of grace.” Arguably, it’s this special sort of grace that is the seed for inspiration itself.
Of course, it should also be made clear that the Picasso prints alone are worth the drive out Route 20. As your humble Feedback writer, I don’t dare don the hat of an art critic for Picasso’s work, though; I simply urge you to experience the exhibit firsthand.
“Picasso was so brilliant and I think Lydia mirrored that with a similar temperament,” Warren reflected. “She just could not stop creating—that really fast, furious inspiration and work ethic.” Through these artists’ work, this influence, energy, and enchantment fills the rooms of Les Yeux du Monde this month.
On display through October 5, the exhibit is free to visit and open to the public on Thursday-Sunday between 1-5pm, or by appointment. For those interested in meeting the artists and hearing discussion of their work, a lunchtime talk will be held at Les Yeux du Monde on October 1 from noon-1pm.
What inspires you? Tell us in the comments section below.