Sophie Calle, ‘Purloined : Picasso, head’, 1994, Perrotin

41 x 30 1/4 inches (photo) 26 x 17 1/4 inches (text) 6 x 7 3/4 inches (introduction text) / 104 x 77 cm (photo) + 66 x 44 cm (texte) + 15 x 20 cm (texte d' introduction)

Introduction On January 3, 1994 a Picasso painting, Tête, was stolen from Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago. Standing in front of the Jean Dubuffet drawing that took its place, I asked all those who had known it to describe the missing work. Text It was a quiet Picasso. When I first looked at it, I saw a triangular shape, but after reading the title,"Tête", I realised what it was a human figure in profile. I can't tell you if it was male or female. From a standpoint of colors, there was a rusty, reddish brown background, a white triangle which over time had become kind of yellow, and black lines that outlined the figure . I believe there was sand mixed with the paint I want to remember it as a profile with one eye and one ear in the lower left corner. It seemed to be simple but there was a lot more going on. It wasn't immediately available , you could not just glance at it It was a tough work with a primitive edge to it. I found it more disturbing than attractive, perhaps because of the single eye, larger than usual scale. It looked at you inquisitively. It was just hard to avoid it's gaze. The direction of the eye was ambiguous. The head was triangular, very pointed with this little odd eye where you don't expect it to be and strands of hair coming from out of the top The head itself was egg shaped, the composition, oval. It was a luscious piece with a lot of texture, you really wanted to touch it There were some fine cracks within the surface of the painting which drew me in even more. It showed it's age, like it's surface was the texture of an old person's face. It had a personality It was flat. It never had a human quality that I could react to. I'm pretty sure it was female. Maybe because being a Picasso, I assume it's a woman. It's certainly not a picture that I would have thought a thief would have responded to I had a friendly feeling for it. I decided it was a young male. As simple as it was, I did feel that there was a life there The painting was a modest scale, about 24 x14 inches. It had a beautiful ornate brown frame and was signed in the lower right It was signed in the upper left corner, just "Picasso". It reminded me of Spain It was a stationary, quiet triangle. A calm piece. It didn't jump out at you . It reminded me of the very first piece that I made in college which also had sand in the paint and similar colors My recall is a bit dampened. It was obscurely a head with an eye and all. It wasn't obscene "Tete" is an oil and sand on canvas depicting a semi-abstract profile of a woman's face in brown, white and black. It was painted in1928, measures 21x12 inches, and was on consignment to the Richard Gray gallery from Chicago artist Claire Zeisler I do see a head, cubist in a way . When you turned it upside down, which the media did, you could see another head with a masculine nose, a chin, an eye, no ears. It was sort of tucked into the corner off the main room. I remember thinking it was very valuable for a small piece. I think five or six hundred thousand. It wasn't my favorite I knew it for thirteen years. It was a fun piece, cartoon caricature type with it's simple lines. Every time I saw it, I had to smile There's an aura that comes with a piece of art like this one. The memory of it stays. I see the painting still there sometimes. They've covered the hole the thief made with a drawing by Jean Dubuffet: "Louise Vicaire au Renard, de profil". It's okay for that spot but has no relation to the missing piece. Sometimes I see both pictures when I look I glanced at it on Friday, December 31st, at 2 p.m. It was the last look I gave to it. It was stolen on January 3rd, 1994, at 5:45 p.m. I don't think we will ever see that painting again.

Image rights: Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

About Sophie Calle

A controversial figure as well as one of France’s leading conceptual artists, Sophie Calle explores her own psychological and emotional terrain in multimedia works, probing ideas of control, freedom, gender, intimacy, and distance in human relationships. Perhaps her most contentious work, Address Book (1983) was inspired by an address book that Calle found on the street, photographed, and sent back to its owner. She then rang the numbers in the book to assemble a portrait of the owner, turning the results into a multimedia installation. For Take Care of Yourself (2007), which was exhibited in the French pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, Calle invited 107 women from various walks of life to interpret and assess a breakup note the artist received in an email. In a range of media including photographic portraits, textual analysis, and filmed performances, women pore over the emotional content of the email; contributions include a clairvoyant’s response, a scientific study, and a child’s fairytale.

French, b. 1953, Paris, France, based in Malakoff, France

Group Shows

New York,
Perrotin Bookstore NYC
Casa Tre Oci, 
Venice, Italy,
Sguardo Di Donna, La Passione e il Corragio [The Female Gaze — The Passion and the Courage]
GASK - Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region, 
Kutna Hora, Czechia,
Images For Images (Artists fir Tichy)
Berlinische Galerien - Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, 
Berlin, Germany,
Berlin 89/90 – Kunst zwischen Spurensuche und Utopie
View Artist's CV