Oh Look, It's Picasso
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Oh Look, It’s Picasso

The AGO welcomes the biggest exhibition of one of the 20th century's most influential artists in nearly 50 years.

Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso
Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West)
May 1–August 26, 2012
$25 adults, $16.50 full-time students (with ID)

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted a major Picasso exhibition; the last time, in 1964, the AGO was still called the Art Gallery of Toronto. It’s no surprise then that Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, which opens at the AGO next Tuesday and runs until the end of August, pulls out all potential stops, featuring 147 works that span 72 years’ worth of the artist’s work, chronologically displayed in a seven-room walk-through.

It’s a showing that leads Anne Baldassari, director of the Musée Picasso in Paris, to predict: “I think the AGO will be the biggest museum in Canada for the next [four] months.”

Works from the Musée Picasso have found themselves subject to quite the grand global tour since the Parisian museum closed for renovation in August 2009; versions of the Masterpieces exhibition have already made their way through the likes of San Francisco, Tokyo, and other assorted international destinations. But the AGO is taking strides to make its particular iteration of Picasso’s intercontinental romp special, including the introduction of Tuesday night paella nights (in honour of the artist’s Spanish heritage, of course), children-focused audio guides, and a special themed cafe in the Gallery Italia during the exhibition’s run.

Then there’s the exhibition itself. The first two sections trace, respectively, the artist’s emigration to Paris and discovery of ancient African and Oceanic works. They’re straightforward. The third room marks a dramatic shift with Picasso’s discovery of Cubism, and from there, one descends further into the surrealist oeuvre, laden with the eroticism and social critique for which the artist is known.

Detail of "Wounded Bird and Cat" (1939).

Each room, focused around a particular period or theme, displays a quote by the artist. In one—the room that shows works created around the time of the Spanish Civil War: “Art is an offensive weapon in defence against the enemy.”

They’re conversation starters. And that’s probably the point.

“I think that museums exist in a challenging time. I think that the whole notion of why people come to museums is starting to shift,” says Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the AGO. “And we firmly believe at the Art Gallery of Ontario that people come for answers, come for new ways of thinking about the world in which we live.”

But Teitelbaum also thinks that the museum is a place of intellectual exchange, to come together and share ideas. “You’ll see over the next number of months a range of things we’ll be doing to try and create spaces for people to gather,” he says.

Let the discussions begin.