of an Exhibit

by Winifred Kehl

Published on January 12, 2011 , Modified on February 07, 2011

  • Museum: Seattle Art Museum

  • Visit Date: January, 2011

  • Description:

    I went to see Picasso at SAM during First Thursday, when tickets were half price. I was expecting the exhibit hall to be so packed as to prevent movement, and had been warned that I might see very little of the paintings themselves. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and instead of a claustrophobic experience I had an informative, thought-provoking experience – and, with a little patience, I was able to see all of the pieces.

    My overall impression of the Picasso exhibit was very positive, with most of my criticisms reserved for the physical space it occupied. I didn’t have trouble finding my way to the Picasso galleries, but only because I followed a group headed in that direction. The orange line of the floor was clearly marked, but a very large banner at the ground level telling you to follow the orange line may have helped. The gallery spaces themselves were a little awkward; the last few galleries folded back on themselves and required me to loop around several times in order to follow the chronology of the exhibit.

    I chose to pass on the audio guide and opted instead for the exhibit pamphlet. Between the pamphlet and the labels on the wall, I felt that I got just enough information to form a compelling story and not so much as to be overwhelmed by factoids. The exhibit itself presented Picasso’s work in groups that roughly corresponded to styles of painting and more closely corresponded to time periods in his life: his early life, his first wife and child, subsequent mistresses and wives and children, the war, etc. The narrative told by the work presented and the pamphlet was engaging; I learned as much about Picasso’s life as about his art styles and the historical context in which he worked.

    It was interesting to notice that in the first few galleries, I was surrounded by clumps of visitors listening to the audio guide. The noise that spilled out from the head sets created a weird hissing background noise and I can see why some museum enthusiasts dislike audio guides. In the later galleries, I saw fewer people listening to audio guides and more people talking to each other or attempting to engage their children with the artwork.

    Unfortunately, I skipped the multimedia portion, which showed some film footage of Picasso and his work. The area was quite full and the chairs seemed to be in use by parents and children as a “break” area. There was not a lot of seating available in the exhibit, and it did take almost two hours to view. The multimedia area, with its many alluring seats, was approximately in the middle of the exhibit and probably drew many people eager for a sit-down. Maybe this was not a bad use of a strangely-dimensioned shape (long and narrow with entrances on the long sides of the room): an area where people could sit for a few minutes or longer and still feel like they were experiencing a part of the exhibit by watching the film footage.

    My only criticisms for the content of the exhibit itself are: 1) titles of pieces that seem to have been poorly translated from French (or at the very least, have lost meaning through translation) and 2) quotes printed high on the gallery walls that sometimes seemed relevant to the work in that gallery and other times seemed randomly chosen (as was pointed out by several other people who also visited the exhibit). In addition, there was one set of pieces that seemed like they should have been arranged differently: the study of a goat skull, the painting of the same skull along with a bottle and a candle, and a sculpture of the same content as the painting. These three pieces occupied two walls, but were interrupted by another painting, which seemed strange. In the same gallery and the gallery that followed, there were several large sculptural pieces whose labels were difficult to find because they were at the end of the gallery wall on the opposite side of the room. These were minor detractors of an otherwise very interesting exhibit. I feel it must have been a success (at least for this one visitor) because I enjoyed the exhibit even though I don’t particularly enjoy Picasso’s art.

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