On 24 April, I attended the much anticipated preview of Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris at the Art Gallery of Ontario. A selection of 147 works from the artist’s personal collection held at the Musée in Paris ranging from photographs, works on paper and oils to bronzes and sculptures had been selected by Anne Baldassari, its chairman and chief curator of collections. Picassos were hung throughout seven rooms which comprised a chronological retrospective from the very beginning till the very end of the artist’s working life. This retrospective is “an invitation into [Picasso’s] thought process,” elucidated the AGO’s Director & CEO, Matthew Teitelbaum, at the well-attended Media Preview.
The arrival of a Picasso exhibit at the AGO constitutes the second time since 1964 that the museum (then named the Art Gallery of Toronto) is playing host to the artist’s works; the first time round Picasso himself had chosen some of the exhibition’s works. Almost fifty years later, museum-goers can enjoy this illuminating collection which makes its only North American stop here from 01 May till 26 August 2012. “I think AGO will be the Picasso museum in Canada for the next months,” warmly announced Anne Baldassari. The collection has been touring the world over the last year since the Paris-based museum closed its doors in 2009 to undergo an extensive face-lift. Its re-opening is scheduled for 2013.
Following the delivery of brief speeches by Teitelbaum, Baldassari and lead sponsor, BMO Financial Group, along with acknowledgements from the AGO’s lead promotional partners including Joe Fresh and others, the exhibit floors were opened!
I walked into the din of a crowded room full of anticipation. I scanned the room glancing at the works but also at the people beholding them. I recognized someone. An art critic. I had seen him in print only a week earlier. With slight trepidation, I approached this fellow art-viewer and introduced myself. We were in Room 2, thematically entitled Making Way: Ancient, African and Oceanic Inspirations (1906–1909), with a corresponding quote on the wall: “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth” to entreat viewers to enter Picasso’s psyche.
My new friend and I discussed the relevance and aesthetic pleasure of art sprinkled with mentions from our own psyches: family, relationships, friends. In truth, it was fun to be accompanied and, as the saying goes, time just flew by. I think we were both there to realize some kind of truth in spite of the ticking clock: the rooms had now cleared and only twenty minutes remained before the end of the Media Preview! We had wrongfully assumed we’d have all day to experience these artworks. Indeed, a return visit is already planned….
I felt awfully privileged to be in the company of such masterpieces that have punctuated 20th century history. On a personal note, they served up some nostalgia of my university days as an art history student. Where have the years gone?! As I meandered through the remainder of the exhibition, I was reminded of Teitelbaum’s intuitive remark earlier that morning that “museums are actually a place to be together, to share ideas.” Et il avait vachement raison.
At the end of this viewing, I took refuge in the relative silence of the newly installed café which will remain in the Gallery Italia till the show’s pre-Labour Day closing. Other new features introduced by the director in the context of “creating a social experience around the content of the exhibition” are free kid-friendly audio guides, Paella Tuesdays at Frank restaurant and soon-to-be unveiled cultural offerings on the AGO’s events calendar.
I spent considerable time in the Gallery Italia post-exhibition immersed in the light of day and the feeling of Picasso curated with great consideration to the play of light. At that moment, Teitelbaum’s closing remarks earlier that morning rang true: “Museums exist to help us with language, with ways of thinking, with ways of approaching challenges in our world. Maybe artists might be some of our very best guides in that regard…to help us imagine new ways to think.”