Art World Cup 2014: Final
- 18 July 2014
After 32 artists, eight groups and three knockout stages, it all comes down to this. Who'll lift the final prize – the Spanish master Pablo Picasso or Mexico's Frida Kahlo?
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Pablo Picasso (Spain)
Pablo Picasso: Path to the final
- Group B: Rembrandt van Rijn, Sidney Nolan, Juan Francisco González
- Round of 16: Cildo Meireles
- Quarter-finals: JMW Turner
- Semi-finals: Paul Klee
By the first decade of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso had already established himself as one of the most significant artists in Europe. But in 1905, Henri Matisse and the Fauvists turned the Parisian art scene on its head with an exhibition of radical works at the Salon d'Automne – art critic Louis Vauxcelles described Matisse and his associates as 'wild beasts', and the Frenchman was immediately hailed as the modernist movement's preeminent artist.
Picasso had been thoroughly upstaged by Matisse, and from 1907 he turned his efforts towards creating his most ambitious work yet. He drew upon his study of African masks, the Iberian sculpture of his native Spain, the work of the old master El Greco, and the first seeds of the movement that was to become Cubism, channelling them all into a large oil painting of five prostitutes at a Barcelona brothel. He called the completed painting Le Bordel d'Avignon – the brothel of Avignon.
The painting sat in Picasso's studio for nine years where it was only seen by a close circle of artists, dealers and friends. Even Picasso's closest friends, among them Georges Braques and André Derain, found the painting troubling – Matisse himself was disgusted by it. The shock of the painting not only confirmed Picasso as Europe's most challenging painter, it knocked Fauvism off the map. As critic Hilton Kramer wrote, 'After the impact of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Matisse was never again mistaken for an avant-garde incendiary'.
In a nutshell, that was Pablo Picasso: an artist so great that he had the power to create and destroy entire movements with a brushstroke. But is it enough to take the Art World Cup home for Spain?
Frida Kahlo (Mexico)
Frida Kahlo: Path to the final
- Group A: Cildo Meireles, Aleksandr Srnec, Bili Bidjocka
- Round of 16: Rembrandt van Rijn
- Quarter-finals: Hokusai
- Semi-finals: Claude Monet
Few artists have endured the personal hardships suffered by Frida Kahlo. A lifetime spent in pain after contracting polio and suffering a tram accident at 18; decades of isolation as a result of her injuries; numerous miscarriages and three abortions undertaken because of ill health, which left her unable to bear children; and a temperamental and unfaithful husband who had an affair with her sister and threatened to overshadow her artistically.
Through it all, she had her art. In her own words, she was 'born a bitch. I was born a painter.' The dominant subject throughout Kahlo's career was Kahlo herself, in a series of self-portraits that drew upon the symbolic language of surrealism to explore her inner landscape. Necklaces of thorns; monkeys, parrots and cats; arrow-pierced deers; skulls, eyes and faces emerging from her forehead.
Yet despite endless symbolic variations, all of the self-portraits have one thing in common: Kahlo's steel-eyed stare fixating the gaze of the viewer. The naked honesty of her self-representations can be shocking – cutting her own arteries to soak her white dress in blood, or vomiting a fountain of meat and bones – but Kahlo's willingness to expose her innermost feelings on the canvas has given her an immense personal presence through her work, more than any artist before or since.
Kahlo's art is stunning, and taken in combination with her life story her legacy is unparalleled. Can she take the final step and lift the Art World Cup for Mexico?