Thursday, February 17, 2011

Picasso's "Cute" Period

If Richmond gets much cooler, all our heads are going to explode. The good kind of explode, but explode nonetheless.

Yes, I'm talking about the Picasso exhibit that's opening at the VMFA Saturday to the public or Friday for members. And if you're not yet a member of the VMFA yet, all I can say is why in the world not?

You do know that members see special exhibits for free while everyone else will pay a $20 admission? That's fine for out-of-towners, but not for locals who should know better.

But about the show. In case you don't already know, it's eleven galleries of Picasso for a total of 176 works spanning his entire career. RVA is the only East Coast venue for this exhibition. You have just under 90 days to see the show.

The show is arranged chronologically, which allows the visitor to see how Picasso's style shifted throughout the years, based on world events (wars, movements), women (muses, wives and mistresses) and his interests (classical painting, photography).

When you walk into the Cubist gallery, it's clear how the man rewrote the language of modern art with his new style of non-representational figures. The collection of photographs is almost an exhibit within an exhibit and begs a long look for a peek behind the legend.

There are pictures of Picasso's sculpture grouped on the steps of his house, shots of him drawing with his children on the floor, him and friends out at a cafe and pictures of his masterpiece "Guernica" in progress. It's a riveting look at the life behind the paintings and sculptures.

My favorite of the 176 is a piece as un-Picasso like as any I've ever seen. "The Bathers" from 1918 in Biarritz has elongated figures in a picaresque seascape that is completely unlike the monumental figures in the nearby works.

"Oh, I love this!" a woman squealed when she saw it. "It's so cute!" I don't think cute is what Picasso was aiming for and I certainly didn't see cuteness.

On the other hand, it elicited a strong reaction and no doubt the artist would have been pleased with that. I spent ten minutes in front of it and went back twice and it still wasn't enough.

Which is just my way of saying that the crowds are almost as much a part of the exhibit as the art. Know that going in and it's easier to enjoy yourself around the inevitable.

So be sure to allow enough time to linger when something captures your eye, because it will happen. This is most definitely not a show to be rushed through. Also, it's a huge show, so pace yourself.

And when you're finished, head upstairs to see the other major show, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, for which we are the only U.S. stop. The crowds will be much smaller and the art every bit as significant; it just won't be Western art.

Then consider going next door to the Virginia Historical Society for An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia, the most compelling exhibit about this period as has ever been mounted in RVA.

It's about at that point that your head is likely to explode, but it will have been completely worth it.


  1. Our heads exploded, and it was totally worth it.

  2. Told you!

    I just got back from my second visit, if that tells you anything.