Picasso at USF: Bust of a Woman

Picasso at USF

Tampa, Florida, United States

CVAST archaeologist and art historian Kamila Oles and landscape archaeologist Lukasz Banaszek are realizing Pablo Picasso’s dream of a great monument and the world’s largest concrete sculpture, which -although planned- has never been constructed.

Newspaper collage from 1974

Picasso and USF

In his last phase, Pablo Picasso created folded sheet-metal sculptures that he wanted to transpose into gargantuan landscape and urbanistic objects. These attempts would have been unsuccessful unless Carl Nesjar had developed a specialized technique of concrete preparation. His ‘intrusion prepack’ method allowed for several realizations of Picasso’s ideas across the world: in the United States, Norway, Spain, Sweden, France, Israel and the Netherlands. Based on these achievements the ‘youngest painter in the world’ decided to create the largest sculpture in his oeuvre. This vision was to be embodied by the ‘Bust of a woman’ that was eventually donated by Picasso to the University of South Florida, Tampa. Established just a few years earlier, USF recognized the spectacular character of a construction that would attract worldwide attention and promote the growing university. The sculpture was expected to reach 102 feet in height, and with maximum base width of 50 feet, it was intended to dominate over the projected campus landscape. It was the last important project approved by the Spanish artist before he died.


These videos show some of the scanning and photographing sessions of the Bust of a Woman.

Scanning the Bust of Woman with an Artec Eva scanner

A change of plans

Unfortunately, the lack of funding caused the concept to be put on hold twice. The gigantic dimensions required tremendous financial resources, not to mention the issues regarding ground stability, and threats caused by hurricanes. The abandoned idea left behind only a small-scale bozzetto, as well as visualization projects, correspondence and photographic documentation stored today at the USF library. Although in this case, Picasso’s ideas are represented only in miniature, and his heritage is not yet forgotten; the modeling techniques available today can be used to place the designed art piece in the virtual campus scenery.

Data acquisitions with Faro Edge Arm scanner

Campus landscape

The aim of this project is to present the virtual world in which the sculpture was actually constructed and to identify the visual interactions, which the art piece was expected to create. Several techniques were employed to create this virtual world. Firstly, historic records were collected and interpreted. Secondly, image-based modelling of the bozzetto allowed for the creation of 3D model of the projected art piece. Next, airborne laser scanning data were used to generate high quality Digital Surface Models of contemporary campus. Additionally, several sets of historic aerial photography were investigated. These datasets were acquired in different flight campaigns, and thus it was possible to track the landscape changes caused by the USF development. Structure-from-motion and Multi-view Stereo algorithms were used to reproduce temporarily diverse landscapes, including the one before the agreement between Picasso and the university, modelled versions of the historic campus with the implemented sculpture, as well as a present-day USF area.

An archive photo of Pablo Picasso, Carl Nesjar and Bust of a Woman

Virtualizing Picasso's ideas

Although the project was never fully materialized, the proposed digital workflow allowed for a peculiar realization of the artist’s idea. Therefore, his expectations to create a monumental art piece and thus to develop a meaningful landscape were somehow met. Despite the virtual character of the obtained results, the confrontation of different datasets and modelling techniques evokes the intangible cultural heritage of modern history. Manifested in his art, Picasso’s worldview represented some of the essential concepts of his time, and the presented digital approach is going to popularize his ideas in a new, virtual world.

The next artisan

“In many periods of his life Picasso has had the good fortune to encounter some artist, artisan or technician who, at the right moment, has put the tools of a new medium into his hands or offered to help him realize a half-formed project of his own.”

Douglas Cooper, New Statesman July 6, 1962


Kamila Oles: kamilaoles usf.edu

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