“Picasso and Chicago” … Missing the “Wow” Factor by Norbert Marszalek

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The Art Institute of Chicago is currently showing Picasso and Chicago, running until May 12. The show celebrates the special 100-year relationship between Picasso and Chicago by bringing together over 250 examples of the artist’s paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and ceramics from private collections in the city, as well as from the museum’s collection.

It’s a great story. A century ago, in 1913, the Art Institute of Chicago became the first art museum in the country to present the work of Picasso and the museum and the city kept on collecting his work. Also, in 1965, the City commissioned Picasso to create a sculpture for what was then the Chicago Civic Center later changed to The Richard J. Daley Center.

Again, it’s a great story. The problem is that this great story and Picasso’s relationship to Chicago is not really reflective in the actual pieces in the show. Don’t get me wrong—present are some masterworks, The Old Guitarist (late 1903–early 1904), Mother and Child (1921) and the maquette for the 1965 sculpture but if you are an avid visitor to the Art Institute you already are very familiar with these pieces. What you get are a lot of drawings and prints … a lot! There’s nothing wrong with drawings and prints but that’s where I feel the show lacks the “wow” factor. There just isn’t enough major work here to really make this show a must-see.

photoNot all is lost … there’s a silver lining. Since some of Picasso’s paintings had to move from their home in the Modern Wing to the special exhibition, the Art Institute worked out a deal with the Philadelphia Museum for two of their masterpieces by Picasso to fill the empty walls, the emblematic Self-Portrait (1906) and the monumental Three Musicians (1921). Ironically, Three Musicians is the showcase piece here … the “wow” factor for me but it’s not part of the exhibition.

Overall it was good to see a crowd at the Art Institute and Picasso will do that.