“Picasso and Chicago”: The Show Is Over But Its Best Parts Are Still On Display. (It’s Called The Art Institute of Chicago’s Permanent Collection).

Featured Image: Minotaur and Wounded Horse, April 17, 1935; detail; pen and brush and black inks, graphite, and colored crayons, with smudging, over incising, on cream laid paper; signed recto, lower right, in graphite: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper right, in graphite: “Boisgeloup–17 Avril XXXV; The Art Institute of Chicago.

By John P. Walsh

How Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and the centenary of the landmark 1913 Armory Show are linked for Picasso and Chicago is tenuous. Bragging rights on Picasso by others have always come to the Catalan artist from the beginning. Media talk in 2013 revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso. Which institution collected Picasso first? – The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923. Which institution collected Picasso most? – the Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930. Which institution first mounted a Picasso retrospective? – The Wadsworth Atheneum in 1934. If attention is what Pablo craves, there are no worries.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model” (detail), Cannes, July 24, 1933, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper. Gray Collection trust.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model” (detail), Cannes, July 24, 1933, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper. Gray Collection trust.

There are several good things about Picasso and Chicago although it doesn’t always revolve around his art. It is satisfying to know that Chicago possesses the resources to showcase a chronological and comprehensive Picasso show within its own collections. In these tight economic times there is kudos owed to a major museum that recognizes its and others’ extant holdings. This chronological exhibition of Chicago’s Picasso collection—and it includes works from The Art Institute, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society—is front loaded providing immediate pleasures. To be greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903/04—a revered painting in the Art Institute—and to be edified by its blue presence is worth the exhibition’s price of admission although there was no special exhibition fee.

The Old Guitarist, 1903–1904, oil on panel, 48 3/8 x 32 1/2 in.
signed, l.r.: “Picasso.” The Art Institute of Chicago.

Does this front-loaded show spell superficiality and the lack of depth? The answer is: yes and no. For any next Picasso show curators in Chicago should find no problem whittling away a lot of what is shown for Picasso and Chicago. Yet it is precisely this downsizing opportunity that points to the show’s possible shortcoming.

Pablo Picasso, “Beggar with Crutch” (detail), Barcelona 1904, pen, brown ink and colored crayon on paper. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973),
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Crazy Woman with Cats” (detail), early summer 1901, Paris, oil on cardboard. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Pablo Picasso, “Artist and Model” (detail), Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper. Gray Collection trust.

When Chicago in the 1920s began a Picasso buying frenzy another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983) and his criticism of Picasso (more a kind of disgust)—and also of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)—was that the pair were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, they were making art primarily for a paycheck. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him correct—that the future of contemporary painting did not rest with Picasso after about 1920. This is partly why Miró turned to the “nonsense” of the Dadaists for the future of his modern art. Keeping Miro’s judgment in mind during a visit to Picasso and Chicago one realizes rather quickly that with notable exceptions an earlier Picasso painting—that is, on the chronological spectrum of the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers intrinsically cohesive artwork that contains the germ or seed of progress.  The art collection in Picasso and Chicago mostly bears out Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso. The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never really boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which cleanse and satisfy a critical eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso might connote a stroll in Paris or having a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along the Mediterranean coast. One could have this vicarious experience even when strolling merely The Art Institute’s Regenstein Hall to soak up some of Picasso’s later and mostly lesser-vintage work. There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—and this includes paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics— which only begin to manifest Pablo Picasso’s profligate artistic genius. Picasso and Chicago may be closed now, but each of these works lurk in Chicago’s domain to be savored and treasured one at a time as they are made available for display. A visitor may do no better than to make their beeline to The Art Institute of Chicago to see The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair and begin one’s own absorption and critique of his work.

Pablo Picasso, “Nude with a Pitcher” (detail), Summer 1906, Gosol, Spain. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973),

Detail of “The Red Armchair,” December 16, 1931; oil and ripolin on panel; signed, u.r.: “Picasso”; The Art Institute of Chicago.
Nessus and Deianira, Juan-les-Pins, September 22, 1920, Graphite on papere with white ground
“Nessus and Deianira,” September 22, 1920, Graphite on tan wove paper, prepared with a white ground ,signed recto, upper left, in pen and blue ink: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper left, in graphite: “22-9-20”

Picasso and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, February 20 – May 12, 2013.


Miró, Janis Mink, Taschen, 2006;

Je suis Le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso, 1986, Arnoldo  Mondadori Editore, Verona, Italy;



All photographs (except “The Old Guitarist”) by John P. Walsh (May 7, 2013).

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

One thought on ““Picasso and Chicago”: The Show Is Over But Its Best Parts Are Still On Display. (It’s Called The Art Institute of Chicago’s Permanent Collection).

  1. KTW

    An exhibition is a show, after all. So while it may not always be the most academic of approaches, such is mounted in such a manner as to be appealing on many different levels to myriad people.

    I think that the “front loading” perspective which you describe give “the people” what they want. And from there, those with more or deeper interest in the subject at hand may explore or delve further. I think that it might not always be the most scholarly of approaches. But the ambition of a public show is to both educate and enlighten. Sometimes, especially in these contemporary times of instant gratification and shorter attention spans, one has to hit the general public quickly and big. Otherwise, well, most people won’t explore more or even attend perhaps. Again, an exhibition is a show.

    And there are elements of both business and showmanship involved in mounting one. If a show is difficult to penetrate for the masses, most people won’t even bother to explore further, A “front loaded” show can appear to be somewhat simplistic or superficial to those with greater interest or insight. But such exhibitions aren’t mounted only for those persons. The mission is also to draw in others who may not have the level of insight or educated eye to piece together a more complexly and academically-mounted show.

    In a sense, its not dissimilar to one who plans a trip (after all, a great art show is a journey). One doesn’t always start with the most obscure and obtuse reference when taking a trip to Paris, let’s say. Not especially when one is trying to persuade someone to love the place or to be seduced by its charms. While it seems 101 to some more advanced or seasoned “travelers”, there is something to be said about the itinerary which begins, in the Paris example, with an easily seductive first day or hitting the Eiffel Tower, driving by the Louvre and taking in a wonderful café. Nothing wrong with getting someone to know why s/he ought to then delve more deeply into Parisian culture – one day perhaps causing them to beg you to take them to that obscure museum hidden away in the midst of all the obvious showstoppers.



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