The Picasso Effect in America 

On its way from Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center and New York’s Whitney Museum, "Picasso and American Art" is scheduled to arrive at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco on Feb. 23.

What does Málaga-born, lifelong Parisian Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispín Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso López (yes, that was his full name) have to do with American art? When it comes to the 20th century, an awful lot.

A very short list of those vitally influenced by Picasso: Max Weber, Stuart Davis, John Graham, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns — these are the ones featured most prominently in the show. These and many others have clearly shown the impact of Picasso’s (often-changing) style in their work.

The show includes about 150 pieces by these and other American artists, providing a cumulative insight into Picasso’s pervasive impact on a country he never visited and the opportunity to see varied works in the context of a shared influence.

(Courtesy photo) "The Studio" (1927-28) is among the Picasso works in "Picasso and American Art" coming to SFMOMA.

From the 1930s on, European influences were strong in this country, from Cézanne to Miró, Matisseand Mondrian.

But the most avidly followed artist was Picasso, in his many periods, from blue to rose to analytic cubism to synthetic cubism — all within two decades of a 92-year-long creative life.

Those radically shifting styles were part of the charm working on young artists in this country.

"Picasso’s mercurial temperament was profoundly liberating to Americans," modern art expert Mark Stevens writes. "It embodied freedom, change and possibility. Picasso became a kind of enriching existential paradox: he’d done everything, but nothing was impossible.

"Without Picasso’s neoclassical ‘Woman in White,’ we would probably not have Gorky’s great portrait of himself and his mother or, probably, Gorky’s own shifting explorations of style," Stevens writes." "And without Picasso’s struggle with the female figure in many forms and guises, we probably would not have de Kooning’s ever-changing American bitch-goddess."

The exhibit originated in the Whitney, the museum that mounted the first Picasso show in the U.S. in the early 1920s, just as Picasso’s fame started spreading in France. Photographs from that exhibit, "Recent Paintings by Pablo Picasso and Negro Sculpture," are part of "Picasso and American Art."

 

IF YOU GO

Picasso and American Art

Where: Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco

When: 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily, except until 8:45 p.m. Thursdays, and closed Wednesdays; show runs Feb. 23 through May 28

Tickets: $12 general; $8 seniors; $7 students; free for children 12 and under

Contact: (415) 357-4000 or www.sfmoma.org

Looking for a great place to eat after you go to the exhibit? Be sure to check out Patricia Unterman's restaurant reviews.

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