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Following Picasso from Paris to Seattle

The Seattle Art Museum, with the Northwest's first major showing of Pablo Picasso's work, is also the first U.S. venue for a traveling exhibition from the Musee National Picasso in Paris.

Musee National Picasso, Paris

Musee National Picasso, Paris Sue Frause

Seattle Art Museum's Picasso exhibit drew record crowds this season.

Seattle Art Museum's Picasso exhibit drew record crowds this season. Sue Frause

SAM Director Derrick Cartwright

SAM Director Derrick Cartwright Sue Frause

While visiting Paris in the spring of 2006, my friend Sandy and I paid a visit to the Musee National Picasso, Paris. Located in the Hotel Sale, a historic house that was built between 1656-1659 in the Marais District, the mansion was acquired by the City of Paris and granted historical monument status in the 1960s.

The building itself is impressive, and inside is the museum’s collection of more than 3,000 works by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), including his own personal collection of works by Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Seurat, and others.

I was duly impressed, but admit that my most vivid memory was being busted for taking photos. Oops. I was able to snap off only two before the musée gendarme admonished me in front of a group of school children. Je suis désolé!

Fortunately for Picasso lovers in the U.S., there’s no need to pack your passport and fly off to France, especially with the U.S. State Department’s recent European Travel Alert. The Seattle Art Museum is the first U.S. venue for the traveling exhibition, "Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris." The exhibition is possible due to the Musee National Picasso, Paris, being closed nearly three years for renovation; it will reopen in 2012.

"Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris" opened at SAM Oct. 8 and will be on display through Jan. 17. The exhibition features more than 150 original works of art by Picasso, including approximately 75 paintings and sculptures, along with prints, drawings, and photographs.

It’s the Pacific Northwest’s first major presentation of Picasso’s work, spanning nearly every phase of the Spanish-born artist’s legendary career. After Seattle, the exhibition continues on to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA (Feb. 19 -May 15, 2011) and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (June 11-Sept. 18, 2011).

I attended SAM's press preview three days prior to the public opening. The museum’s Arnold Board Room was jammed with journalists, sponsors and other invited guests who munched on a morning menu “inspired” by the exhibition: orange-sage sugar cookies and apple eclairs, along with coffee and tea. I’m not sure what the connection between those two sweets and Picasso is, but they were tasty.

SAM Director Derrick Cartwright greeted the packed room, which he said was the largest press turnout since the reopening of SAM in 1991. “This is a milestone,” said Cartwright. “It’s the most significant survey of Picasso in the USA since an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Earlier this year, "Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art" featured 300 works by Picasso from the New York City museum’s collection. The paintings, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics had never before been seen in their entirety.

Since the SAM gathering was so large, we broke into three smaller tour groups led by Cartwright; Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s deputy director for art and curator of European painting; and Anne Baldassari, General Curator of the exhibition and Chief Curator of Collections and Chairman of the Musee National Picasso, Paris. I was in Cartwright’s group, and as he guided us through the dozen galleries, he was both knowledgeable and entertaining.

Since this was a fairly quick run-through, I’ll be making a return visit on my own, and will utilize the audio tour (included with the price of admission). The tour features six “voices”: Cartwright, Ishikawa, Baldassari, artist Chuck Close, Pepe Karmel (an associate professor of art history at New York University), and Robert G. O’Meally (an English professor and founding director emeritus of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University). You can also download the MP3 files or podcast to a mobile device before you visit.

An added touch to the exhibition is a Picasso quote on the wall of each of the dozen galleries. Here are just a few:

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.


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