of an Exhibit

by Mallory Martin

Published on January 16, 2011 , Modified on February 22, 2011

  • Museum: Musee National Picasso, Paris, France

  • Visit Date: January, 2011

  • Description:

    “Wow,” “Why are all these people here?” “Oh snap!”
    The following phrases are only snippets of the reactions I overheard when standing in line at the Seattle Art Museum to see Picasso during its last week of exhibition. I had heard from classmates and others that the exhibit was worth a trip downtown but that one should be prepared to stand in line and not be able to get up close to the art due to the large volume of people. Knowing this and after having checked my bank account to make sure I had enough funds to cover the $18.00 ticket and potential all day parking charges, I set out for the SAM. I arrived promptly at 10am when the SAM opened and was not only greeting by the classic ‘hammering man’ outside but also by a massive winding line of people that almost stretched around the block. Questions disseminated through the line about the exhibit, “do you have a ticket already?” “Is this the line for Picasso?” “Do you think they are sold out?” Others in the line who were better informed than I (or perhaps more patient) answered questions in a jovial manner as others bundled up against the incoming wind raging from the Puget Sound and waited, and waited, and waited for the doors to open.
    Once inside the staff were welcoming and quite accommodating as they shuffled hundreds of people around stanchions and pointed out the ticket counter for what I can only assume to be the millionth time since the opening of the show. After hearing how the show was sold out due to online and advanced ticket sales for certain time slots, I was quite excited to be able to purchase a ticket the day of and be able to see the works during my limited time window. I did have some time to linger as my entrance time was 11am and my meandering through the line had only taken about 35 minutes so I ventured down to the SAM SHOP to look at Picasso’s work in art books and peruse the jewelry. Once in the SHOP I encountered more people (big surprise!) and had to side step over many families with children who, like me where biding their time before talking the ride up the escalator to see the much anticipated Picasso. Once I felt properly saturated with art books and merchandise I made my way up to the show, where SAM staff continued to be invaluable by pointing the way to Picasso along the orange line taped to the floor.
    Yet another line awaited me at the top of the escalator but free audio guides and kids activity packets were poised and ready to be plucked up by the masses that had come after me. I chose not to get the audio guide for sake of time and from what I had heard from others, a pamphlet about the show and how the work was organized in the galleries would also be provided. Alas after having hastily wound my way around the 11 gallery spaces no pamphlet was to be found, and after having inquired with the staff I found out that they had only printed so many pamphlets for the entire show and had run out at the First Thursday event the last week, thus I was without audio, intellectual or visual ques as to what I was viewing.
    Strolling through the galleries immediately became difficult because those with the audio guides had stopped at the first work, La Celestina which was located immediately inside the gallery space and was surrounded by ‘oohers’ and ‘ahhers’ at least five people deep. While informative to be sure (and a great tool for keeping the gallery spaces quiet) the guides were more of an inhibiter to the flow of the show for those not using them and aside from viewing the artwork my main objective in walking through the galleries was to avoid at all cost the large masses of people huddled around a work with their audio guides.
    School groups were present in large numbers in the gallery spaces and were accompanied by a SAM staff that walked them around to specific works and discussed portrait, emotion and the use of still life in art. This was a highlight for me (aside from the Picasso works of course) as I got to see children really being focused and engaged in discussing what goes into creating a work of art. During the course of my time at the show I saw pairs of kids strolling around sketching works that moved them or looked ‘cool.’
    My time in the Picasso show was quite reflective. I have been quite lucky to see other works by Picasso in Spain at the Museo Reina Sophia in Madrid, so was thinking back to my time in Spain and how I had reacted when I had seen Picasso’s work for the first time. This reflection made me think back to my favorite Picasso painting, Guernica which visually captures the emotions of a small Spanish town after a horrific bombing. Thinking about this painting, its scale, feeling and history situated me back at that Museum in Spain and allowed me to focus in on the other works in the gallery. Strolling around the 11 galleries was tiring but also well worth my money, time and attention. Indeed as I turned a corner sure that I had seen all there was to see and was about to exit the show, a photographic time-lapse of the various stages of Guernica was on display. It was here I sat and lingered and watched how the master that was Picasso took an expansive canvas and turned it into an evocative and timeless piece of art. Despite all that I had anticipated and encountered to this point, at this moment I had received all that I needed from the show…a personal connection and moment introspection facilitated by a work of art. I cannot speak for others who have attended the show but my experience was one of wonder and awe. The Picasso exhibit at the SAM despite a lack of pamphlets, a harried line and ticketing process and cramped gallery space delivers what it advertises…Picasso.

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