Picasso and Chicago


of an Exhibition

by Meghan Wingert

Published on March 07, 2013

  • Description:

    A significant exhibition taking place in the Art Institute of Chicago’s expansive Regestein Hall, Picasso and Chicago showcases not only the work of this master painter, printmaker and sculptor, but also the city of Chicago’s role in the establishment of his legacy. According to the introductory text Picasso and Chicago attempts to “explore the endless inventiveness of Picasso’s artistic thinking as represented by the numerous works by him in Chicago collections.” In the end, Picasso and Chicago is a successful glimpse into the career of Picasso and the role that the city of Chicago played in popularizing his work in the United States, but as an exhibition it doesn’t go beyond the typical survey show.

    As a museum studies student learning to look critically at museums, when I first heard about this exhibition, I was unsure how I felt about it. I didn’t know if it would be a show that contained beautiful work displayed in a way that made it both thought-provoking and accessible to a wide array of visitors, or if it would be a text heavy expression of the Art Institute’s “expert” knowledge that some visitors would not relate to. The nearly 250 pieces chosen for this show chronicle Picasso’s experimentation throughout his career and the different influences that were incorporated into his work. Grouped chronologically, curators highlighted numerous areas of focus in Picasso’s work including his Rose Period, his work with Cubism, and the influence Surrealism had on his later pieces.

    After taking in the space, I came to the conclusion that while Picasso and Chicago is effective in its survey of Picasso’s oeuvre, by the end I felt hit over the head with the notion of how important Chicago collectors were to Picasso’s development. I realize that Chicago and the city’s collectors played an important role in bringing Picasso’s work to the United States and growing his reputation. And I am aware that this is an integral part of Picasso and Chicago’s concept, but the way in which this information was presented seemed repetitive. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that this exhibition was in a small part another way for the Art Institute to boast about its collection and importance to the art world, something that many people already know.

    Though at first glance this show appears to have a very broad target audience, given that Picasso is an artist of whom nearly everyone has knowledge on some level, some of the specific choices didn’t seem to be very inclusive. The work is grouped sequentially, and the curators provided a plethora of didactics to help guide the viewer through the space, both of which provide an access point for art aficionados and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, much of this supplemental text seems geared toward a more traditional audience, one that is expecting an informative, straight-forward experience with nothing new thrown into the mix. There was little room for viewer interpretation, and none of the wall text seemed to encourage viewer participation past looking at the work, reading the corresponding label explaining the ‘right’ way to view that piece, and moving on to repeat the process.

    By the end, I felt as if curators didn’t really think about challenging their audience or allowing them to interpret the work for themselves, or really even targeting an audience for that matter. Instead they created an exhibition that they knew would be well received by most visitors, collectors in Chicago and donors to the museum, but not present any radical or new ideas in terms of exhibition design or content.

    All in all, was Picasso and Chicago a bad exhibition? Certainly not. But it also was not in any way new or critical in its approach to engaging its audience or the subject matter it presented. I wonder what the result would have been if instead curators of Picasso and Chicago asked visitors to come up with their own conclusions instead of telling them what to see.

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