By Jonathan Lill

René d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Museum, installing the exhibtion. Photograph by Dan Budnik. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

That all-caps title was the message relayed by MoMA staff from Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the Director of Museum Collections, to René d’Harnoncourt, the Museum’s director, confirming that the landmark exhibition The Sculpture of Picasso would indeed take place in New York.

[1] The telegram was sent January 9, 1967, only 10 months before the show was to open, yet it was the culmination of years of planning, research, and careful wooing of the recalcitrant and mercurial Pablo Picasso.

Guests at the preview for the 1967 exhibition The Sculpture of Picasso. Photograph by Dan Budnik. Museum-Related Photographs, 48. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

In 1964 Alfred Barr worked with English art historian and Picasso biographer Sir Roland Penrose to plan exhibitions of Picasso’s sculpture in both London and New York. Both men had visited Picasso in his studio over the years and seen the artworks in private—the sculptures had never been exhibited publicly. Yet as the two discussed the idea with Picasso’s dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, he informed them that Picasso had just been persuaded to include his sculptures in the gigantic 85th birthday retrospective at the Grande Palais in Paris[2]. And even as the artist warmed to the French exhibition, he demurred on sending his works abroad. Penrose tried to broach the issue in September 1966, as Picasso packed up sculptures for Paris, but was rebuffed by Jacqueline Picasso and others: “For heaven’s sake,” they admonished Penrose, “wait until everything is out of the house—at that moment it should be easy.”[3] Three months later Penrose was relieved to tell Barr that Picasso had approved the London show, but regarding the exhibition in New York the artist said only, “There’s still plenty of time for that, I can’t yet say.”[4]

René d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Museum, installing the Sculpture of Picasso exhibition. Photograph by Dan Budnik. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

In January, Barr and his wife, the art historian Margaret Scolari Barr, traveled to Europe hoping to arrange a visit with Picasso to resolve the matter. After days of fruitless communication, Picasso finally approved a meeting and the Barrs made a mad dash, from Paris to Cannes and back in one day, to have a one-hour discussion with Picasso.

The fateful telegram from Mary Colonna to René d’Harnoncourt. The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 841.12. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

The fateful telegram from Mary Cannallo to Rene d’Harnoncourt. The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 841.12. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

As recounted by Barr, “Our anxious comedy [of the return trip] began with having to eat lunch in seven minutes in order to make the plane, compounded by a crisis caused by the…inability to get the hired car started, further complicated by being arrested for speeding ended finally with our arrival at the airport fifteen minutes ahead of flight only to be told we were too late. I pounded the counter and the Frenchman was so surprised he let us through to the plane.”[5] But the Barrs’ conversation with Picasso had yielded the desired answer, as declared in the joyful telegram.

Like our current Picasso Sculpture, the first exhibition of Picasso’s sculpture earned rave reviews and large attendance, entering history as another of MoMA’s many legendary Picasso exhibitions. That history is preserved in the MoMA Archives exhibition files, which contain records of the Museum’s registrar and curatorial departments from MoMA’s very first exhibition in 1929 through today. Since January 2014, the Archives has been engaged in fully processing and preserving these records so they can be opened to the public, and just weeks ago we completed phase two of this project, opening files through 1980. Thus the records for The Sculpture of Picasso [MoMA Exh. #841, October 11, 1967–January 1, 1968], can now be consulted by anybody, simply by making an appointment in the Archives.

Funding for the processing and creation of finding aids for The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records was generously provided by the Leon Levy Foundation.

[1] Telegram Mary Colonna to René d’Harnoncourt, January 9, 1967. The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 841.12. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.

[2] Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., June 30, 1965. MoMA Exhs., 841.6. MoMA Archives, NY.

[3] Roland Penrose to Monroe Wheeler, September 28, 1966. MoMA Exhs., 841.12. MoMA Archives, NY.

[4] Roland Penrose to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., December 14, 1966. Ibid.

[5] Alfred Barr to Roland Penrose, January 23, 1967. Ibid.

Read more here:: From the Archives: “GOOD NEWS PICASSO HAS AGREED TO EXHIBITION AT MOMA”