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 significant 1913 Armory Show are linked for “Picasso and Chicago” is tenuous. Bragging rights on Picasso by others have rested on the Catalan artist from the beginning. In 2013 this year’s media talk revolves around the several American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso: which institution collected Picasso first (The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923), which collected Picasso most (the Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930) and which institution was the first to mount a Picasso retrospective (The Wadsworth Atheneum in 1934). If attention is what Pablo craves, there are no worries.
There are many good things about “Picasso and Chicago” although it doesn’t always revolve around his art. It is satisfying to know that Chicago has the resources to showcase a chronological and comprehensive Picasso show with its own collection. In these tight economic times there is kudos owed to a major museum that recognizes its 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.
Might a front-loaded show spell one lacking depth? The answer is: yes and no. For any next Picasso show in Chicago the curators 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 this show’s possible shortcoming.
When Chicago in the 1920s began a Picasso buying frenzy another 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 (more a kind of disgust) with Picasso – as well as with Henri Matisse (1869-1954) – was that Picasso and Matisse were at that time making all their art for their dealer. In other words, making art primarily for the money. 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 some of the reason why Miró turned to the “nonsense” of the Dadaists for the future of his art. Keeping Miro’s judgment in mind during a visit to “Picasso and Chicago” – one realizes quickly that an earlier Picasso – dare one say, even a pre-Cubist Picasso – is usually always a better Picasso. Certainly one can trace Picasso’s greatness insofar as this show’s stock to no later than Miró in Paris. But there are notable exceptions regarding Picasso’s later work with “The Red Armchair” of 1931 about the show’s halfway point. It sometimes proves a complete pleasure to view nearly all 250 items on display – the paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics by Picasso for “Picasso and Chicago” – including his crying Dora Maars of 1939. Yet if pressed for time – and at this certain lunch hour there was only a moderate and slightly festive crowd – one might walk past Picasso’s work after 1930 and not fear missing but, for this show, a lesser vintage.
Picasso’s art is linear and, despite its often erotic themes, there is a quality to his work that satisfies the eye by cleansing it. Picasso’s art is ancient and modern at once, and thoroughly European. Seeing a Picasso adds up to a stroll in Paris or a sunburn on your face in the south of France and into Spain. “Picasso and Chicago” may be closed now, but on the next visit to The Art Institute a visitor can do the very best thing when it comes to Picasso in Chicago and go seek out his “The Old Guitarist” on the museum’s venerable walls.
“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).
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