Diana Widmaier Picasso, the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso, has been behind some of the most impactful publications and exhibitions around the artist’s work—whether it be “Picasso.mania” at the Grand Palais (2015) or “Picasso’s Picassos” (2016) and “Picasso and Maya” (2017) at Gagosian. A catalogue for the latter, Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter, sharing previously unpublished archives and photographs as well as an interview with Widmaier Picasso’s mother, Maya, was recently released.
As an art historian, Widmaier Picasso has interests that have ranged from the personal to the ancient, including archaeology and jewelry customs of past civilizations. That proclivity grew into a passion, leading her to found the investment jewelry brand Mené with Chief Creative Officer Sunjoo Moon. Whitewall spoke with Widmaier Picasso about the connection between art and jewel.
WHITEWALL: As an art historian and chief artistic officer for the jewelry brand Mené, can you tell us where your interest in jewelry stems from?
DIANA WIDMAIER PICASSO: I studied art history at the Sorbonne, and I always had an interest in the jewelry of ancient civilizations. The museum of archaeology in Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris, where I grew up, is still an inspiration.
I am very friendly with several talented jewelry designers, but I have also collected Renaissance, 18th-, and 19th-century jewelry for many years and artists jewelry such as Lalanne or Anish Kapoor.
When I met Roy Sebag, a young, successful entrepreneur who founded Goldmoney bank—where people hold their assets in gold—I became interested in this idea of creating a jewelry brand based on a pure material, 24-karat gold. We started it together, and people immediately responded to the idea of a transparent price and a privileged access to a forgotten, magnificent material. We call it investment jewelry because it relies on the intrinsic value of gold and platinum. My close friend Sunjoo Moon is the creative director.
WW: How do these two roles influence each other?
DWP: There is a strong connection between art and jewel handicraft. I have been working on a catalogue raisonné of Picasso sculpture for the last 12 years, so it is a natural prolongation, as all civilizations have displayed their strengths to produce magnificent end ornaments. I am very inspired by archaeology, Greek and Egyptian art.
I recently curated an exhibition in Rome with Anna Coliva at Galleria Borghese, “Picasso Sculpture” (November 2018–March 2019), and the dialogue between Bernini and my grandfather’s sculptures was again illuminating. I believe in timeless works. I adore that quote from Picasso, “To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.”
WW: How do the materials themselves—gold and platinum—and the fact that these are materials that have been used for thousands of years, inspire the design?
DWP: We find our inspiration from the material itself: pure 24-karat gold and platinum. We do not add any stones or diamonds. Therefore, it brings us to reinvent the adornments of our great ancestors, such as ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, adding a modern vitality. Pure gold confers color, weight, and a form of solar energy. The spirituality of the material led us to create a large quantity of charms, formerly called talismans or amulets. Everything in life is about belief.
WW: You’ve collaborated with Inez & Vinoodh on the MeneXcollection. Can you tell us about this November’s upcoming collection in collaboration with the estate of Louise Bourgeois?
DWP: Inez & Vinoodh created a very symbolic design for us and shot one of our campaigns. They are so incredibly talented. We loved working with them. Our next collaboration is with the Louise Bourgeois Foundation. It will be launched in November. We created three powerful pieces cast directly from Louise Bourgeois’s work, including the well-known spider. I just worked on a Picasso / Louise Bourgeois exhibition with Marie-Laure Bernadac (Hauser & Wirth, Zürich, June–July 2019), and it allowed me to stress the importance of Louise Bourgeois, a legendary figure in art history. For that project, we worked closely with the Louise Bourgeois Foundation.
WW: Can you tell us about Picasso: The Impossible Collection, which you published with Assouline this past October?
DWP: For the Assouline book, Picasso: The Impossible Collection, I chose a hundred works by Picasso. Putting together an “impossible collection” was a fascinating challenge. Picasso is undoubtedly the most prolific artist of the 20th century. I selected masterpieces such as Guernica or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, but also works that Picasso had chosen to keep until the end of his life in 1973, including paintings and drawings that held personal memories for him, or some late works. Although the notion of a masterpiece is usually associated with Picasso’s paintings, I wanted to present all his means of expression and experimentations with materials and techniques.
WW: How do you see younger and younger generations of artists still being influenced by Picasso?
DWP: Picasso was capable of reinventing himself constantly. He revolutionized art, in a sense. His distinctive style and historical borrowings have earned him a central place in discussions on contemporary art. Picasso gave permission to many artists not just to create, but to invent. Let’s hope this freedom will inspire many more generations to come.