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Art Institute of Chicago spotlights Picasso

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100 years after city 1st shared his work, huge exhibit opens.

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

CHICAGO — A century after the Art Institute of Chicago became the first American museum to show work by Pablo Picasso, the institution is celebrating the Spanish artist with a huge exhibition featuring his art and its relationship with the city.

“Picasso and Chicago,” which opened Wednesday, features 250 works — nearly half of the museum's own Picasso collection along with pieces from private collections and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's the Chicago museum's first major Picasso exhibition in three decades.

“One of my hopes is that people can appreciate the art and enjoy it but then also, at the same time, sort of fall back in love with these works for the history that they represent,” exhibit curator Stephanie D'Alessandro said.

One of Picasso's designs is a well-known city attraction, a 50-foot-tall steel sculpture at the downtown Richard J. Daley Center. Children often play on the big piece in summer, while visitors debate what the enigmatic artwork depicts.

But the artist and the city have a deeper relationship than simply a tourist attraction, museum president and director Douglas Druick said.

“There's a link between Chicago and Picasso in terms of temperament,” Druick said. “A restlessness, a desire to improve, a desire to change, a desire never to stand still.”

D'Alessandro believes Picasso's art has a boundary-breaking, revolutionary vision similar to Chicago's character and energy.

“That bold vision, that interest in the new and the modern and the technologically interesting is something that Picasso was,” she said. “I think his personality was perfectly akin to that, and I think that that kind of spirit really appealed to Chicagoans.”

The museum became the first in the nation to feature Picasso when it decided to give space to the 1913 Armory Show, which the museum says introduced European modernism to an American audience. It was a move Druick describes as bold and daring for the time because, even though the exhibit was presented in New York and Boston, it was only shown in a museum in Chicago.

“Picasso and Chicago” features paintings, drawings, works on paper, ceramics and sculptures, including “Old Guitarist,” “Mother and Child” and Picasso's 1906 self-portrait. It runs chronologically from the artist's early years in Barcelona to his late years in the south of France.

The exhibit is open through May 12.