STOCKHOLM, Aug 29, 2012 (AFP) -Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art is pitting Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, two of the 20th century's modernist greats, against each other in a new exhibition opposing their contrasting approaches to art.
"Picasso/Duchamp: He was wrong" opened Saturday, the title based on Picasso's reputed laconic remark on learning of Duchamp's death in 1968.
The exhibition is a "theatrical" posthumous meeting of the two greats, museum curator Daniel Birnbaum said of the pair who each had a famous dislike for the other's works and who never met.
The Moderna Museet has a fine collection of works by the two influential artists often described as rivals and incompatible, with Picasso the prolific painter and Duchamp the conceptual creator who challenged painting as an artform.
But the museum has never before organised a showing of their oeuvres side by side.
"There is really a difference between Duchamp's detachment and Picasso's subjectivity. When these two things come together, it doesn't go very well," exhibition curator Ronald Jones told AFP.
"Picasso is the great painter, and the other is the one who questioned the very nature of an artwork," Birnbaum added.
The first room of the exhibition is a large hall adorned with giant portraits of the two artists facing each other: Picasso with a bull mask covering his head in an Edward Quinn photograph, and Duchamp with his face covered in shaving cream and tufts of hair protruding like horns, shot by Man Ray.
Also in the room, Picasso's 1912 collage "Bottle, Glass and Violin" faces off against Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel" from 1913.
It's the only room where their work is shown together and it is meant to link their universes, which visitors then view separately, choosing to go left to see the works of Duchamp and to the right for Picasso.
Picasso churned out paintings over a career spanning seven decades, while the more humble Duchamp prided himself on a small body of work, delivering just 13 "readymades" over four decades.
The two giants began their careers around the same time, had the same patrons, and sometimes the same supporters and admirers. What divided them was their way of getting their message across, according to Jones.
"Marcel wouldn't have cared" about his works being exhibited alongside Picasso's, but "Picasso probably wouldn't have liked it so much," mused Jones.
"At the end of his life, (Picasso) was quite concerned by the allegiance artists were showing to Duchamp. He despised Duchamp," he added.
The exhibition features Picasso's 1941 masterpiece "Woman with Blue Collar" and more than a hundred of his other works, most of them belonging to the museum's own collection but some on loan, his shocks of colour and etchings hung in a number of small and intimate, inviting rooms.
Meanwhile two large, airy rooms are reserved for Duchamp's 20 conceptual installations, with "Large Glass" and "Fountain" as centrepieces, perhaps more difficult for the visitor to grasp.
Anna Brodow Inzaina, art critic for one of Sweden's leading newspapers Svenska Dagbladet, said Picasso wins the contest hands-down but criticised the museum's need to exaggerate the rivalry that existed between the two.
"Exhibiting Picasso and Duchamp against each other is unnecessarily polarising and exclusionary," she wrote, questioning the exhibition's "he was wrong" point of departure.
"Why does a rivalry between two artistic giants have to be blown up into an ultimatum? Were there really only two ways to go? Does the exhibition want to push us into answering the question?," she asked.
After Picasso, the museum plans to pit other artists against Duchamp along the same model.
"Picasso/Duchamp: He was wrong" runs until March 3, 2013.