The AGO Presents: “Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris”

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) Autoportrait au chapeau de paille (Self-portrait in Straw Hat), 1938 Oil on canvas 61 x 46 cm Pablo Picasso gift-in-lieu, 1979, MP174 Musée National Picasso, Paris. © Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) © RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi

“Give me a museum, and I’ll fill it,” Pablo Picasso once boldly asserted.  He wasn’t kidding. He indeed filled a museum, and they even named it after him: the Musée National Picasso, Paris. Currently, extensive renovations have forced the institution to close temporarily, which, incidentally, works out well for the rest of us.

Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris – a travelling exhibition of the artist’s paintings, prints and sculptures – makes its only Canadian stop at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) beginning Tuesday, May 1. For older art buffs, Anne Baldassari, the Musée National Picasso, Paris’s chairman and chief curator, notes that this large-scale exhibit builds on Picasso’s first visit to the city almost 50 years ago.

“A dialogue about Picasso and his extraordinary career started at the AGO with the ground-breaking exhibition Picasso and Man in 1964,” Baldassari said in a statement. “Now, the conversation continues with – an exhibition presenting a magnificent collection of the artist’s work, giving Toronto audiences a true understanding of the artist’s inventive and transformative legacy.”

Presented on a scale befitting one of modern art’s most revered and influential figures, the exhibition encompasses seven rooms, employs 17,000 square feet and contains 147 works spanning 72 years (in chronological order). From his Blue and Rose periods to the advent of Cubism, right through Classicism, Surrealism and Self-Portraiture, the creative stages Picasso navigated are celebrated in magnificent form through works like Celestina (The Woman with One-Eye), Man with a Guitar, Massacre in Korea, The Kiss and The Matador. Sculptures include the life-size instalment The Bathers and the proportionally challenged (though oddly-endearing) The Goat. For art fans, it’s like being let loose in a giant Picasso playground.

Tony Gagliano, president of the AGO’s board of trustees, called the Toronto mounting of the exhibit “a major accolade for our country and the Province of Ontario.”

Picasso’s granddaughter, art historian Diana Widmaier-Picasso, stops by to present a lecture on May 23, headlining an array of exhibit-related AGO events that include various family activities and special Spanish offerings at the gallery’s restaurants and cafés.

Before touching down in Hogtown – the last stop on the world tour – Picasso’s works travelled through Spain, Japan, Russia, Finland, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Australia.

Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris runs from May 1 to Aug. 26, 2012. For more information on the exhibit and related events, go to the AGO website

-Mike Crisolago