“A Day With Picasso”

I normally begrudge technical minds any professed interest in art. Having squandered my youth in numerical pursuits, I can testify that Stellan Skarsgard’s Good Will Hunting character—with his Vasarely print and his unctuous claim that a difficult proof is like a symphony—is distressingly true to type. But Billy Kluver is a glorious exception. Although the electrical engineering Ph.D. has published on such nonsense as “backward-wave magnetron amplifiers,” he has endeared himself to art lovers with 1989’s Kiki’s Paris (his and Julie Martin’s photographic record of the milieu of Man Ray’s model mistress) and the new A Day With Picasso: Twenty-Four Photographs by Jean Cocteau. In identifying and ordering Cocteau’s pictures of a lunchtime outing on August 12, 1916, Kluver resorted not only to letters but meteorological records and shadow measurements. (Picasso exists only as a shadow in the above picture.) Normal levels of ar- historical scrutiny result in a mythologizing of the subject, but when analysis of the minutiae of artists’ lives is carried to such extremes, it forces us back on the making of history not by historical agonists but by historians. What at first glance seems a slim gift book for Montparnasse boho junkies emerges next as an intricate—and slightly absurd—logic puzzle and finally as a full-blown piece of conceptual art. “Most of the work is drudgery,” my modern physics prof confessed. But sometimes the drudgery pays off in wonder. Lift a glass of absinthe to Kluver after he discusses and signs at 7:30 p.m. at the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Hammer Auditorium, 17th & New York Ave. NW. $20. (202) 639-1770. (Glenn Dixon)