“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 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.

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

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

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.


The Old Guitarist, late 1903–early 1904, oil on panel, 48 3/8 x 32 1/2 in. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Beggar with Crutch,” Barcelona 1904, pen, brown ink and colored crayon on paper, detail, 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 (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” 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 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.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973), “Nude with a Pitcher,” detail, Summer 1906, Gosol, Spain, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973),

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.

“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.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s