L.A.'S Look at Picasso: 'Cynical Road Show' or Classroom for Cubism?
Gloria Goodale, Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
It's almost unfair to debate whether a career retrospective of such a 20th-century art icon is good. Almost by definition, significant works from every period of the single most influential artist of this century are worth seeing.
A current exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), "Picasso: Masterworks From the Museum of Modern Art," consists of 115 rarely seen paintings, drawings, sculptures, collages, and prints from MOMA. Because of the enormous boost his works have given the New York museum, it is sometimes called "the house that Picasso built." Space limitations, however, allow only about a dozen of the pieces shown in the Los Angeles exhibit to be on regular display in New York.
That said, the show has distinct strengths and limitations. The Spanish-born artist's styles are explained chronologically, with large pieces showing concerns of each period ("Boy Leading a Horse," 1905; a study for "Guitar," 1912; "Night Fishing at Antibes," 1939; "The Charnel House," 1945). While this helps viewers walk through the century, it is less useful in understanding his relationship to other artists of his day, not to mention his impact on history. Perhaps most challenging to the average viewer is the absence of many of his most important and influential works. You won't find "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" or "Guernica." Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, dubbed the exhibit, which already appeared in Atlanta and Ottawa, a "cynical road show." He recommends a trip to New York to see the pieces this show leaves out. But MOMA's chief curator of painting and sculpture, Kirk Varnedoe, says such attention to big pieces misses the point. "All these pieces together remind us how much we have to learn," he points out. …