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Picasso at the de Young

The show, “Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris” opens on Saturday (and runs through October 9) at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The exhibit of 150 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and collages is the first full-scale Picasso retrospective ever shown in San Francisco. The works were among the thousands in Picasso‘s own private collection and constituted a visual diary of his creative process.

I remember when I first heard the news of Pablo Picasso’s death, at age 91 in 1973. I was on a “jitney bus” on my way from the main campus at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio to what was called “west campus.” I remember learning of Picasso’s final home, at Notre Dame de Vie, and writing a small “free verse” poem about the experience. Picasso’s heirs gave many of his works to the French state in lieu of inheritance taxes, and later they sold or donated others to the state-owned Musée Picasso, which opened in a Baroque mansion in the Marais district of Paris in 1985. The museum now houses over 5,000 works from Picasso’s eight-decade career.

While the Musée Picasso is closed for renovation, this exhibition of “Picasso’s Picassos” (as Fine Arts Museums Director John Buchanan calls them, is touring the world. After San Francisco, the show will go on to Sydney, Australia before returning to Paris.

Since (as I told my French treasurer, who is from Versailles) it seems unlikely now that I will visit Paris in THIS lifetime (although my daughter has), I quietly thank God for the French renovations that have made it possible for me to see the Picasso exhibition sometime soon, and also the work of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists from Le Musée d’Orsay, for the fact that I live within driving distance of San Francisco, and for the fact that, since my wife is a teacher, we are able to afford memberships in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Sometimes, good things come to people, and the best things in life are actually “free or inexpensive.” The same museum membership that has made for affordable exhibitions at the de Young (like King Tut, which I missed in Chicago during graduate school) has also made for affordable exhibitions at the Palace of the Legion of Honor (1, 2). As I have said before, I am a pretty strong believer in both serendipity and Karma.

So should Mr. Buchanan be, as well, who describes the exhibition as an incredible overview of Picasso’s work from the Blue and Rose periods into Cubism, Neoclassicism, Surrealism, and Expressionism…. As the SFGate article says:

Buchanan was in Paris in 2009 to discuss the show with Anne Baldassari, the Picasso museum’s director, when he attended a dinner with Guy Cogeval, the director of Paris’ Musée d’Orsay. Cogeval mentioned that the Orsay, which houses the world’s premier collection of Impressionist art, would also be closing for renovation. That night, the idea was hatched for the big Impressionism and Post-Impressionism shows that came to San Francisco last year.”

“The timing was fortuitous. That was a very productive trip,” says Buchanan, who was pleased that the show devoted to Picasso – a towering influence on 20th century art – arrives on the heels of the exhibitions of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters who sowed the seeds of modern art.”

Read the SFGate article for discussions of several pieces in the exhibition by Fine Arts Museums curator Timothy Burgard, who helped select the works, and who states that:

“Picasso was truly the first artist who said anything is possible in art. He set up the modern paradigm, which is that the artist is permutable, he can metamorphose into something else. He gave artists permission to be and do anything. And I think that’s really his greatest legacy.”

-Bill at

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