Exhibit at Art Institute explores interwoven histories of Picasso and Chicago

The new exhibition "Picasso and Chicago" at the Art Institute of Chicago weaves together the famed artist's 80-year career with holdings from the museum and other collections.

It also tells the story of Chicago, which, like Picasso, exemplifies the bold and modern, curator Stephanie D'Alessandro said at the media preview.

On view through May 12, the exhibition showcases, to nice effect, 250 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and ceramics by the Spaniard, the most influential artist of the 20th century, according to D'Alessandro, the Art Institute's Gary C. and Frances Comer curator of modern art.

All but 50 of the works come from the museum's collection of 400 Picassos; most of the others are from Chicago collectors, who were among the first Americans to acquire his work. Three masterpieces — "Self-Portrait with Palette" (1906), "Three Musicians" (1921) and "Old Woman with Gloves" (1901) —are on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The museum also has created nine installations throughout the museum that explore sources of inspiration for Picasso and works by artists he inspired.

The "Picasso and Chicago" exhibition itself is heavy on drawings and prints and a little light on paintings. But among them are some real stunners.

One, "The Old Guitarist" (1903-04), from Picasso's Blue Period, is the first painting museum visitors see in the exhibition.

It's historic: Chicago collector Frederick Clay Bartlett gave "The Old Guitarist" to the Art Institute in 1926, making it the first Picasso painting acquired by an American museum.

A more joyous and serene painting — and one of the largest in the exhibit — is "Mother and Child" (1921), a post-war work that reflects Picasso's turn toward a more traditional style as peace settled over Europe. Displayed close by is a fragment of "Mother and Child," given to the Art Institute in 1968 by Picasso himself. (Picasso, by the way, never visited Chicago, or the United States, for that matter.)

Among the many prints in "Picasso and Chicago" are commissioned etchings the artist made to illustrate the Honore de Balzac short story, "The Unknown Masterpiece," and a French translation of Ovid's epic poem, "Metamorphoses."

"These are beautiful, complete images. They almost look like they've been kissed onto the plate," Mark Pascale, curator in the Art Institute's department of prints and drawings, says on the acoustic guide for the exhibition.

Among other series of prints are those showing Picasso's masterful depictions of the bull and a "Weeping Woman." And there are several etchings and drypoint on paper works from "The Saltimbanques" series of 1905.

The Art Institute chose to mount "Picasso and Chicago" this year as a nod to the 100th anniversary of the seminal Armory Show in New York City. The landmark exhibition took place in the 69th Regiment Armory and introduced Americans to European modern art.

The "Picasso and Chicago" exhibition and catalog also celebrate the fact that Picasso's first solo show outside a commercial gallery in America took place in Chicago, at the Chicago Arts Club, in 1923, well before the Museum of Modern Art would open in New York.

And the first permanent display of Picasso's work in an American museum took place at the Art Institute.

Representations of another Picasso-related first for Chicago opens "Picasso and Chicago": A wall-size enlargement of a photograph of the 1967 unveiling of Picasso's monumental sculpture in the Richard J. Daley Plaza. Displayed in front of the photographic mural is the original maquette, or artist-made model, of the famed piece of public art.

It was the first monumental sculpture by Picasso and the first designed for a U.S. civic project. Many readers of a certain age will remember many Chicagoans didn't at first embrace the sculpture, which depicts an equine mask-head of a woman.

"Picasso and Chicago" doesn't gloss over that controversy. The exhibition includes a copy of a Chicago American article asking, "Is Our New Statue a Real Dog?" The newspaper showed, side by side, a photograph of the huge sculpture and one of Picasso's Afghan hound, Kabal, who "guards" the artist's home in Cannes.

"Whatever its merits as public sculpture — and our tastes have turned toward the figurative and the personal style it represents — it is an act of self-assertion, and it is in that arena of self-assertion that Picasso and Chicago really meet," New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik wrote for the exhibition catalog.

If you go

What: "Picasso and Chicago," an exhibition featuring 250 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and ceramics by Pablo Picasso

When: Now through May 12.

Where: Regenstein Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

General museum admission: Free for children younger than 14; $17 for youths age 14 through high school, students and senior citizens 65 and older; $23 for adults (Illinois residents with ID receive $3 discounts; admission is free to Illinois residents from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday)

Museum hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays

To purchase tickets: Call 877-307-4242.

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