Francis Picabia: the art 'loser' who ended up winning it all

By Jason Farago

An extravagant new retrospective of the avant-garde French-Cuban artist highlights often troubling yet always distinctive work

The president-elect's favorite term of abuse is “loser” – lobbed more than 200 times from his toxic Twitter account, at victims from Jeb Bush to Rosie O'Donnell. When people like him are winners, “loser” might be an insult worth reclaiming. There's a photo-collage from 1920, the first Francis Picabia ever made, in which the French artist tears apart his face, sutures it with hastily pasted papers, and brands his chin with the all-caps word RATÉ: a loser, a failure, a man defeated. And yet he flashes a crafty smirk, peeking out from under one of those pasted scraps. A “loser”, claimed Picabia in the years after the first world war, was the finest thing you could be; it meant you had failed to obey the dictates of a society that had lost its collective mind.

Related: Dalí in a diving helmet: how the Spaniard almost suffocated bringing surrealism to Britain

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