After Dark | Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Figure Découpée (Cut-Out Figure), 1975

Cast concrete with aggregate interior, engraved by sandblasting (“betongravure”)


138 in. x 96 in. x 5.5 in. (350.52 cm x 243.84 cm x 13.97 cm)

Purchased with funds made available through an anonymous gift to MIT

An adventurous tour of MIT’s more remote buildings. Best followed in the evening so that night has fallen for the later pieces.

This tour was created by Joseph Faraguna, class of 2020, in Bioengineering and with a minor in Computer Science. Faraguna was a List Center Student Guide for all four years of his undergraduate career. 

Based on a set of pen-and-ink sketches and first created as an oil painting, Pablo Picasso’s planar sculpture was born out of a collaboration with Norweigan artist Carl Nesjar. With Picasso’s consent, Nesjar fabricated the sculpture, first by filling a wooden form of Figure with dark gravel, crushed stones, and concrete and then sandblasting the concrete away to reveal the dark material beneath. Figure Découpée depicts a bird flying from left to right, its wings outstretched and its beak sharp. The sandblasting technique allows for variable line thickness and depth which add tension to the piece’s dimension-bending presence. How do the lighting and placement of the piece inform its subject matter?

Building Number: E60

Accession Number: 1975.058

Audio Transcript

A dominant figure in 20th century European art, Pablo Picasso made more than 600 sculptures throughout his lifetime. Figure découpée, which literally means cut-out figure, began as a drawing from a series of pen and ink notebook sketches Picasso did of owls and birds in flight. Picasso turned these into a maquette in 1958 and with Picasso's enthusiastic approval, Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar here transformed Picasso's design into this concrete sculpture installed at MIT in 1975.

At the time, Nesjar was a visiting artist at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. This is made by making a cast of concrete, and then it's engraved by sandblasting to the precise designs of Picasso from this earlier drawing. It is really a drawing made into monumental form. It's a planar sculpture. It doesn't really have a back.

Picasso and Nesjar first met in 1957. And by 1975, Nesjar had transformed 27 of Picasso's designs into concrete sculptures.

Nesjar studied prehistoric cave art of France and Spain, and that knowledge of prehistoric techniques contributed to the evolution of this concrete engineering, and of course, would have appealed to Picasso greatly, who loved the primordial and the primitive his entire career.