"Picasso and Chicago", and the "Art of Migration" Review – Two Different Stories of Chicago

It would be difficult to be in the Chicago area and not be aware of the Picasso and Chicago exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. If you have not  seen it yet, note that it is leaving on May 12th.  This show is especially focused on the role Chicago played in Picasso’s fame and the role of Picasso’s art works in promoting Chicago as an important city for art.


In 1913, the Art Institute of Chicago became the first art museum in the country to present the work of a young Spaniard who would become the preeminent artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. In celebration of the 100-year relationship between Picasso and Chicago over 250 of the finest examples of the artist's paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and ceramics from private collections in the city, as well as from the museum's collection, were gathered for the presentation of the first large-scale Picasso exhibition organized by the museum in almost 30 years.  This exhibit is extensive and fascinating.


Picasso’s artworks were included in the 1913 Armory Show, and after that time, the museum began collecting his works in the early 1920s with two figural drawings, Study of a Seated Man (1905) and Sketches of a Young Woman and a Man (1904/05); in 1926 the museum welcomed The Old Guitarist (late 1903–early 1904) as a generous gift of Frederic Clay and Helen Birch Bartlett. Over time, the collection has expanded to include paintings such as the classically inspired Mother and Child (1921) and the surrealist Red Armchair (1931); landmark sculptures including the Cubist Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909) and a maquette for Picasso's largest three-dimensional work, Monument for Richard J. Daley Plaza (1965); and works on paper such as Woman Washing Her Feet (1944) and impressions of The Frugal Meal (1904), one of only three examples in the world of the famous Blue Period etching actually printed in blue ink.


Featuring diverse and significant works from the museum's own exceptional holdings and from collections throughout the city, Picasso and Chicago not only charts the full gamut of Picasso's artistic career but also chronicles the growth of Chicago as a place for modern art and the storied moments of overlap that have contributed to the vibrant interest in Picasso from 1913 to today. Adding to the celebration of this eminent artist and his connection to Chicago are special installations throughout the galleries as well as a host of exceptional programming.


I enjoyed the accompanying film and found it helpful in better understanding some of the works, especially Red Armchair (1931) and Mother and Child (1921) (which originally included a father).


I think Chicagoan’s feel a special connection to Picasso not only because of the large collection of Picasso’s works owned by the Art Institute of Chicago, but also because of the sculpture in Daley Plaza which stands 50 feet tall and weighs over 160 tons.   I remember the controversy in the city when it was put in place.  It was commissioned by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center to anchor the plaza on the east side of the building and has now become one of Chicago’s most famous sculptures and beloved icons


The Chicago Picasso is built of Cor-Ten steel, the same material as the exterior of the Daley Center, and was assembled not far from Chicago at the U.S. Steel Company in Gary, Indiana. In his dedication letter, Picasso gave the sculpture as a gift to the people of Chicago, without ever explaining what the sculpture was intended to represent thus creating ongoing speculation as to what it represents.  One of the most surprising things I learned is that Picasso never visited the United States.


While visiting the Art Institute, be sure not to miss They Seek a City. This is the first exhibition to focus on the art produced by the wonderfully diverse communities that made Chicago their home. The 80 works primarily by southern- and foreign-born artists—many rarely seen by the museum’s audiences—come together for this look at the city’s rich art of migration.  The effort to understand and adjust to a new community is expressed in many and varied ways.  In these works one sees Chicago becoming the polyglot, cosmopolitan place one experiences today.


The over 80 works frequently focus on the underlying social causes of migration or immigration, including violence and persecution, and addressed common themes of exile and assimilation. It is very interesting to note that many artists from different communities formed relationships, and shared educational, institutional, political, and aesthetic affiliations that crossed ethnic, racial, and social boundaries.


Related Events and Exhibitions
See all related programming.

Continue to investigate the themes and issues explored in They Seek a City with Rising Up: Hale Woodruff's Murals at Talladega College, on view at the Chicago Cultural Center March 23–June 16.

Tell Us Your Story
Whether it was last year or last century, every family has a migration story to tell. Share yours with us today at theyseekacity.tumblr.com. All submissions will be automatically entered for a chance to win a They Seek a City exhibition catalogue.


Art Institute of Chicago

111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Phone: (312) 443-3600


Photos:  Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago


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