Tuesday, February 26, 2013

'Picasso and Chicago' Exhibits Impressive Collections More than Cogent Connections -- Art Exhibition Review

Art Exhibition Review

Picasso and Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago
Thru May 12

I consider Pablo Picasso an absolute genius.

His ability to transverse myriad modes and mediums over an 80-year career is largely unmatched in the annals of art history, and in liking a great deal of his output and admiring his insatiable sense of exploration, he stands--IMHO--alongside The Beatles and Charlie Chaplin as the greatest creative forces of the 20th Century. (With apologies to Mssrs. Gershwin, Sondheim, Coltrane, FL Wright, Hitchcock, Hemingway and whoever I'm overlooking.)

As such, any gathering of his paintings--especially with a sprinkling of sculpture, drawings, prints, ceramics and a solid dose of curatorial insight--will likely be enjoyable, even exciting, for me.

And the Art Institute's new exhibition, Picasso and Chicago--conveniently accompanying an across-the-board admission price increase--is.

Simply at (anamorphic, askew, inverted and cubed, etc.) face value, the 250 pieces on display offered more than enough to keep me pleasurably immersed for two hours, with a return visit not out of the question (abetted by my being an AIC member).

Given my particular fascination with Picasso's pre-Blue and Rose period paintings from 1900-1901, it was nice to see the one at right--Old Woman (Woman With Gloves)--on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

And in eschewing a full-scale "greatest hits" show featuring an abundance of borrowings from worldwide museums in favor of showcasing its own Picasso holdings--including many less famous works not typically on display--and about 50 pieces from local private collections, the Art Institute does a nice job in digging a bit deeper into the master's multifaceted oeuvre.

I don't know for certain that the gouache, woodcut and drawing below aren't readily seen, but I don't recall them and enjoyed the way they complemented the more glorious full-color oil paintings (such as The Red Armchair, just underneath, for which Picasso also used Ripolin, as explained in a brief movie I wished delved deeper in technique than materials).

Certainly, there was much interesting--and per the eye of the beholder, beautiful--artwork on display, nicely augmented by wall text that broached Picasso's forays into numerous genres.

I appreciated this insight that was imparted on the text panel for the "1920's":  

"In 1915...while he was still very much engrossed in Cubist experimentation, he began simultaneously to pursue Classicism. From that point on, his concurrent exploration of styles would become one of the hallmarks of both his talent and reputation."

Whether you are an art aficionado or novice, I certainly wouldn't dissuade you from taking in this exhibit, either as a local or a tourist. In fact, the Art Institute is the #1 attraction I recommend for Chicago visitors.

All this said, for anyone residing beyond Rockford or Milwaukee, I'm not sure the Picasso and Chicago exhibit merits a special trip.

Given the purview of the exhibition--which in part commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Art Institute's Armory Show, which provided Picasso his foremost exposure in America as of 1913--most of the major pieces shown are always on display at the Art Institute, where of late they've comprised the best part of the otherwise mediocre (art-wise) Modern Wing. (A bit oddly, perhaps the best borrowed Picasso newly on display in Chicago--Three Musicians, at right, from Philadelphia--is not within the special exhibit, but hung separately within the Modern Wing.)

So while there are a good number of great paintings to be seen, most of the best--including my favorite, The Old Guitarist (below)--have long been AIC stalwarts.

And while Picasso and Chicago as an exhibition title implies an overt relationship between the two, except for the Daley Plaza statue that Picasso donated to the city in 1967 and the 1913 Armory Show in which early works were displayed within an American museum for the first time (the exhibition actually began in a New York armory), the connection between Picasso and Chicago is either tenuous at best, or not deeply explored in the current exhibit.

It was certainly fun to read that upon being pitched to create the statue now known as "The Picasso" and being shown photos of famed Chicagoans, Pablo--who never stepped foot in Chicago or the United States--noted Ernest Hemingway and said, "My friend! I taught him everything he knew about bullfighting."

(Tangentially, I also admired the chutzpah with which the artist introduced himself to Marie-Thérèse Walter, who would become his mistress, muse and model. According to the wall text, he said simply: "Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to make your portrait. I am Picasso." Gotta try that myself sometime;)

But other than most of the works being AIC holdings or borrowed locally, I couldn't say I really discerned much about Picasso and Chicago. Rather, the visually and descriptively stellar but thematically suspect exhibit could more accurately be titled Picassos in Chicago, many of the prime of which are not newly on display.

As such, while I consider Picasso a superior artist to Roy Lichtenstein, last year's Art Institute retrospective on the latter was more exploratory and eye-opening as an exhibition (and a better organized visual delight).

So if you are living in, say, Picasso's homeland of Spain, and have even perhaps been to the excellent Picasso Museum in Barcelona--where I really liked learning about his obsessively re-interpretive Las Meninas series based on a famed Diego Velasquez painting--you needn't necessarily travel to Chicago by Mother's Day, especially if you might rather catch the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza or a visit by Barcelona soccer superstar Lionel Messi later in the summer. The best Picasso works now on display in Chicago will still largely be hanging around.

But for anyone coming to town anyhow, or already here, particularly if you haven't been to the marvelous Art Institute for awhile, Picasso and Chicago is 'muy bueno' and well worth your while.

And if the museum's new, special exhibit-inclusive admission cost of $23 (a bit less for Chicago and Illinois residents) poses a bit of a conundrum, see if the AIC's free Thursday evenings (for IL residents) or Bank of America's Museums on Us free admission programs (for their customers) might accommodate you.

After all, you know what us art geeks like to say: It's always great to see more Picasso for less Monet.

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