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Picasso: Awesome Arrivals

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto May 1 to Aug 26 2012
Pablo Picasso <em>Le Baiser (The Kiss)</em> 1969 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi Pablo Picasso Le Baiser (The Kiss) 1969 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Pablo Picasso <em>Le Baiser (The Kiss)</em> 1969 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi

The Art Gallery of Ontario has a blockbuster on its hands with its new exhibition of highlights from the Musée National Picasso in Paris. At this week’s press opening, the museum’s chairman and chief curator Anne Baldassari noted that the Toronto venue, the largest on the show’s North American tour, meant that “for the next few months, the Picasso museum is here.”

The exhibition, which occupies more space than usual for an AGO show, is a handsomely installed delight. Baldassari’s installation presents a near cradle-to-grave selection of works that creates a compelling overview of the artist; it ranges from an early 1899 poster sketch to a landscape made in 1972, one year before Picasso’s death.

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Pablo Picasso La Célestine (La Femme à la taie) (Celestina) 1904 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ Rights reserved
Pablo Picasso <em>La Célestine (La Femme à la taie) (Celestina)</em> 1904 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ Rights reserved
Pablo Picasso La Célestine (La Femme à la taie) (Celestina) 1904 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ Rights reserved
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Pablo Picasso Autoportrait (Self-Portrait) 1906 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ René-Gabriel Ojéda
Pablo Picasso <em>Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)</em> 1906 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ René-Gabriel Ojéda
Pablo Picasso Autoportrait (Self-Portrait) 1906 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ René-Gabriel Ojéda
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Pablo Picasso Trois Figures sous un arbre (Three Figures beneath a Tree) 1907–8 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda
Pablo Picasso <em>Trois Figures sous un arbre (Three Figures beneath a Tree)</em> 1907–8 
© Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda
Pablo Picasso Trois Figures sous un arbre (Three Figures beneath a Tree) 1907–8 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda
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Pablo Picasso Violon (Violin) 1915 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso <em>Violon (Violin)</em> 1915 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso Violon (Violin) 1915 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
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Pablo Picasso Portrait d’ Olga dans un fauteuil (Portrait of Olga in an Armchair) 1918 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda
Pablo Picasso <em>Portrait d’ Olga dans un fauteuil (Portrait of Olga in an Armchair)</em> 1918 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda
Pablo Picasso Portrait d’ Olga dans un fauteuil (Portrait of Olga in an Armchair) 1918 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéda
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Pablo Picasso Deux femmes courant sur la plage (La Course) (Two Women Running on the Beach [The Race]) 1922 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso <em>Deux femmes courant sur la plage (La Course) (Two Women Running on the Beach [The Race])</em> 1922 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso Deux femmes courant sur la plage (La Course) (Two Women Running on the Beach [The Race]) 1922 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
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Pablo Picasso Tête de femme (Head of a Woman) 1929–30 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso <em>Tête de femme (Head of a Woman)</em> 1929–30 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso Tête de femme (Head of a Woman) 1929–30 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
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Pablo Picasso Grande Nature morte au guéridon (Large Still Life with a Pedestal Table) 1931 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéd
Pablo Picasso <em>Grande Nature morte au guéridon (Large Still Life with a Pedestal Table)</em> 1931 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéd
Pablo Picasso Grande Nature morte au guéridon (Large Still Life with a Pedestal Table) 1931 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/René-Gabriel Ojéd
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Pablo Picasso La Femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman) 1937 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso <em>La Femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman)</em> 1937 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso La Femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman) 1937 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/ Jean-Gilles Berizzi
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Pablo Picasso Portrait de Dora Maar (Portrait of Dora Maar) 1937 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso <em>Portrait de Dora Maar (Portrait of Dora Maar)</em> 1937 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso Portrait de Dora Maar (Portrait of Dora Maar) 1937 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
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Pablo Picasso Tête de taureau (Bull’s Head) 1942 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso <em>Tête de taureau (Bull’s Head)</em> 1942 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso Tête de taureau (Bull’s Head) 1942 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
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Pablo Picasso L’Homme au mouton (Man with Sheep) 1943 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso <em>L’Homme au mouton (Man with Sheep)</em> 1943 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
Pablo Picasso L’Homme au mouton (Man with Sheep) 1943 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Béatrice Hatala
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Pablo Picasso Jacqueline aux mains croisées (Jacqueline with Crossed Hands) 1954 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso <em>Jacqueline aux mains croisées (Jacqueline with Crossed Hands)</em> 1954 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso Jacqueline aux mains croisées (Jacqueline with Crossed Hands) 1954 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
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Pablo Picasso L’Atelier de la Californie (The Studio of La Californie) 1956 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso <em>L’Atelier de la Californie (The Studio of La Californie)</em> 1956 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Pablo Picasso L’Atelier de la Californie (The Studio of La Californie) 1956 © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Blue and pink periods unroll into a cubist, neoclassic and surrealist progression, and the show can seem like a single-artist summary of the first half of 20th-century art history. While that may sound academic, the show isn't. Rather, it feels more like a discovery tour as one remarkable work follows another. We already celebrate Picasso for his protean inventiveness, but the joy of the exhibition is how it reactivates the images of his work that we carry in our heads or think we know from reproductions. Instead, we find works with a concrete vitality that no image quite captures.

Picasso’s sure-handed, deliberate touch—with every mark an economic marvel—is matched by a captivating restlessness that shows itself in the shifting sizes of his paintings, the thick-to-thin, dry-to-wet ranges of their surfaces, and the plethora of transformed material. The sculptures included represent yet another set of peaks in modern art history. In one room, a grey alcove of towering height, Picasso’s bicycle-seat-and-handlebar Bull’s Head is unsettlingly installed high on the wall. At the other end, Man with Sheep presides from a raised dais with a worn but delicate sensitivity that tempers Picasso’s bad-boy reputation.

The show, touring while the Musée National Picasso undergoes renovations, should drive major traffic for its reopening next year. As an exhibition, it puts Picasso back into the foreground of 20th-century artists who still count for contemporary art making. Picasso’s visual intelligence remains unrivalled. As Toronto’s Diaz Contemporary opens a new show of work by Vancouver painter Elizabeth McIntosh this weekend, viewers coming from the AGO will have no trouble seeing Picasso’s graphic legacy alive, well and thriving.

This article was first published online on April 26, 2012.

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