“What would a Picasso exhibition look like if it was curated by acclaimed British artist and fashion designer Paul Smith?” That question is answered emphatically — and in living color — in Picasso Celebration: The Collection in a New Light.
This can’t-miss exhibition, at the Musée Picasso Paris through August 27, 2023, is one of approximately 50 special events taking place around the world as part of Celebration Picasso 1973-2023, recognizing the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death on April 8, 1973.
Smith’s art direction, in partnership with curators Cécile Debray and Joanne Snrech, showcases Picasso’s work “through a contemporary lens and underlines the continuing relevance of Picasso’s work in today’s world,” says the museum. It does so in a way that untethers Smith from the more traditional exploration or “academic approach,” he says. Instead — and noting he’s an art lover but in no way an expert — Smith emphasizes the exhibition is a “free expression” to showcase Picasso’s art in a new and exciting way.
This manifests in some superbly creative, visually stirring, whimsical, and memorable displays. Think: a room swathed in blue to set off paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period. A pink room for the rose-hued Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Blood red in the bullfighting room. A floor of green astroturf for an homage to Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe — apropos when you consider the painting’s name translates to Luncheon on the Grass.
Picasso’s Paul en Arlequin hangs on a harlequin-covered background, its blue and yellow diamonds a near replica of the subject’s costume. His famous Bull’s Head sculpture, formed by the union of a bicycle seat and handlebars, is accompanied by a wall of handlebars. Picasso’s famed marinière Breton gets the celebrity treatment, with a photograph of the Breton-cloaked artist sitting beneath an umbrella of striped jerseys suspended from the ceiling.
Clearly, Smith had fun with this assignment. Or, as Debray calls it, a “joyful invitation to rediscover all of Picasso’s creative fields, painting, sculpture, ceramics and graphic arts, through the sharp and mischievous eye of a great contemporary creator.”
Picasso Celebration: The Collection in a New Light also has its pensive moments; most notably where his Civil War-inspired works are exhibited alongside Mickalene Thomas’ Resist #8, a modern battle cry targeting systemic racism and police brutality. Thomas is one of several contemporary artists whose work is showcased throughout Celebration Picasso.
Events Around the World
Celebration Picasso kicked off last year with a dual announcement from the French and Spanish Culture Ministers in front of the anti-war masterpiece Guernica at Madrid’s Reina Sofía Museum. It wraps up in early 2024. In between, exhibitions will be held throughout Europe and North America. A selected list is below.
The Mint Museum
February 11 to May 21, 2023
Cincinnati Art Museum
June 24 to October 11, 2023
See more than 45 of Picasso’s landscape paintings, a genre he explored throughout his career, from his art school days at 15 years old to just before his death.
Museo Reina Sofia
November 14 to March 4, 2024
This exhibition examines how Picasso contributed to the advancement of modern art as a pioneer of Cubism. Picasso’s time in the Catalonian village of Gosol in 1906 marked a period of optimism and evolution — hence, the “transformation.” This was especially compelling as it came on the heels of his highly symbolic Blue and Rose Period artworks.
Museo Picasso Málaga
May 8 to September 9, 2023
Museo Guggenheim Bilbao
September 29 to January 14, 2024
Picasso may be most well-known for his paintings, but he also crafted around 700 sculptures focused on the human body. Several of them will be on display during this exhibition, which is devoted to his sculptural artworks.
Magnelli Museum, Museum of Ceramics
May 6 to October 30, 2023
It was while living in the French Riviera city of Vallauris from 1948 to 1955 that Picasso became enamored of ceramic work; he went on to create more than 600 ceramic pieces. Many of them will be on display during this exhibition but don’t stop there. The Magnelli Museum and the Picasso National Museum are both housed in the Château de Vallauris. You’ll find Picasso’s iconic War and Peace fresco in the Romanesque chapel.
October 18 to January 22, 2024
The largest-ever exhibition of Picasso’s drawings, this retrospective traces the artist’s entire career. More than 2,000 drawings and prints — some unpublished — will be shown, including early sketches of some of his most recognized and lauded work.