This book tells the story of a piece of set design: the historic curtain that Picasso created for the ballet Parade in 1917. The story begins in pre-World War I Paris. While Mata Hari was dazzling the French with her dancing, Jean Cocteau proposed the ballet Parade to Sergei Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes. Cocteau enlisted Eric Satie to create the music, Pablo Picasso for the scenography and costumes, and Léonide Massine as the choreographer. The ballet opened in Paris in 1917, with the First World War already underway. The ballet was a complete flop, but it marked a turning point in the history of dance. Picasso painted a 17 X 10-meter curtain (seen only before the show begins) that became famous.
The curtain was brought to Buenos Aires in 1939, along with several French works of art, to be displayed in an exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts. Arturo Jacinto Álvarez, an eccentric collector and writer, founder of the publishing house La Perdiz, fell in love with the curtain, bought it and took it to his rural property in the Province of Buenos Aires. The book explores the figure of Arturo Jacinto Álvarez, based on his literary work, newspaper reports, and interviews with people who knew him. Fifteen years later, when the curtain was brought back to Europe for an exhibition, art experts mobilized to recover it. The curtain is now part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris (Center Pompidou). In the Pompidou file on the curtain there is an empty space corresponding to the 14 years that the curtain spent in Argentina. The book presents some hypotheses about the curtain’s whereabouts during that period, and suggests a whimsical explanation to account for that time, narrated by the curtain itself.