Though he never visited the city — or even the United States — Pablo Picasso left an indelible mark on Chicago.
For the past century, the modern spirit of his work has resonated with Chicago art fans, culminating with the unveiling of the iconic Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza in 1967.
Now his lasting influence — and his 100-year connection to the city — is being celebrated in the exhibit “Picasso and Chicago,” opening Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Art Institute of Chicago and running through May 12.
Located in the Art Institute's Regenstein Hall, the display contains more than 250 works from the museum's collection and private collections throughout the city in nearly every media, including paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and ceramics.
The exhibit documents the rise of the Spanish artist's career alongside the growth of Chicago collectors and cultural institutions.
The city played an early, critical role in the development of modern art in the United States, says Stephanie D'Alessandro, Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute and curator of the exhibition.
“While the career of Pablo Picasso is just one of many examples, it is nonetheless an extraordinary story: Some of the most significant events in the reception of his art — including the first presentation of Picasso's works at an American art museum, the first solo show devoted to the artist outside a commercial gallery and the first permanent display of his work in an American museum — all happened in Chicago and all within just the first two decades of the last century,” she says.
The exhibition marks the 100-year relationship between Picasso and Chicago that began with the Armory Show in 1913, the first large exhibition of modern art in America.
The historic event, which changed the landscape for artists, collectors and critics in the United States, showcased the works of the most progressive European artists at the time, alongside their American contemporaries. The display showed in private institutions in New York and Boston, but the Art Institute was the only art museum to host the exhibition.
Since that show, the city's interest in Picasso, who died in 1973, and desire for his work has only grown, says D'Alessandro.
“Clearly Picasso was a fresh voice, and his style, whether through the Blue Period or the Rose Period, were very different from things before that,” she says. “It clearly spoke of the modern age. It had a sense of breaking tradition, which really appealed to some of the earliest collectors of modern art in Chicago who were doing the same thing.”
In 1967, the city welcomed the Chicago Picasso, the first major public artwork in the downtown area. The piece, a figure that has inspired both controversy and admiration, has become one of the city's most popular landmarks.
“Through this exhibit, you start to see the moments of intersection that lead up to the Picasso structure in Daley Plaza, and it's really a remarkable thing,” D'Alessandro says.
In addition to the “Picasso and Chicago” exhibit, the museum is featuring special paintings on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a presentation of artworks shown at the 1913 Armory Show and nine exhibits that explore the artist's interests and influences.
“Picasso looked around the world and across the centuries to fuel his extraordinary imagination, from African art to the paintings of Goya, Rembrandt, Ingres and more,” D'Alessandro says. “Rarely have so many departments here participated in honoring a single artist; even rarer still is the presence of magnificent paintings by Picasso lent for the occasion by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
The Art Institute began its collection of Picasso's work in the early 1920s and has since amassed nearly 400 pieces.
In doing research for the show, D'Alessandro says she came across a Picasso drawing of a peasant woman wearing a shawl that was featured in the very first solo show of his work in the United States in 1911. It likely was one of the first pieces that visitors saw upon entering the exhibit.
It's that kind of history that makes art special, she says.
“Those intricate layers are what make art so unique, that secret life that it had when it came here,” she says. “It becomes a really fun and rich story to have unfold.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.