The Show of Shows

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Picasso, modernism's father, comes home to MOMA

In imaginative force and outright terribilità, it is quite possibly the most crushing and exhilarating exhibition of work by a 20th century artist ever held in the U.S. Beginning this week, over the next four months nearly a million people will queue outside New York City's Museum of Modern Art to get a glimpse of it. Pablo Picasso, who died in 1973, is being honored in a show of nearly 1,000 of his works, some never exhibited before, drawn from his estate as well as from collections the world over.

What gives the exhibit its overwhelming character is the range and fecundity of Picasso's talent—the flashes of demonic restlessness, the heights of confidence and depths of insecurity, the relationships (alternately loving and cannibalistic) to the art of the past, but above all the sustained intensity of feeling. "Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective" contains good paintings and bad, some so weak that they look like forgeries (but are not), as well as a great many works of art for which the word masterpiece—exiled for the crime of elitism over the past decade—must now be reinstated. It is the largest exhibition of one artist's work that MOMA has ever held, or probably ever will. It contains pieces ranging in size from Guernica, Picasso's 26-ft.-wide mural of protest against the fascist bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War, to a cluster of peg dolls he painted for his daughter Paloma. Paintings, drawings, collages, prints of every kind, sculpture in bronze, wood, wire, tin, string, paper and clay; there was virtually no medium the Spaniard did not use, and all are profusely represented.

They fill the building's three floors, displacing MOMA's permanent collection. "I felt that only with the whole museum could we have an exhibition worthy of Picasso's oeuvre," explains William Rubin, MOMA's director of painting and sculpture. "I don't think there is any other artist whose work could sustain such an exhibition."

Most visitors will agree, even if they find the presentation exhausting and nearly indigestible, streamed as they must be through the galleries at a speed dictated by an attendance of 8,000 people a day.* In such circumstances, no one can absorb the scope and the depth of the man. How can one "see" in two hours what took nearly 80 years of such obsessive activity to produce? The "Tut Law," or curse of the mummy, by which works of art become invisible as the museum audience for them expands, will work against this show. That is all the more ironical since this is not an affair of little scholarly value, like the traveling Tutankhamun exhibit seen by more than 8 million Americans, but an immense contribution to Picasso studies, done at the highest level of curatorial skill.

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