Among the most famous artists in history, and a painter whose bizarre, sometimes savagely grotesque works still are difficult to appreciate for some museum visitors, Pablo Picasso remains a giant of the 20th century.
In 2007, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s unforgettable “Picasso and American Art” exhibit from the Whitney Museum showcased how his work had an impact on artists from Willem de Kooning to Jackson Pollock to thousands of wannabes.
Yet there is nothing easy or simple about the man, who lived from 1881 to 1973 and once said, “I have a horror of people who speak about the beautiful,” but also said, “To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”
Current and upcoming exhibits in The City illustrate his importance.
Some works of art never leave home, except when the home undergoes major renovation. Just as the de Young “gave shelter” to Musée d’Orsay Impressionist masterpieces when the Paris museum was being rebuilt, The City benefits from a closure of the Musée National Picasso.
The once-in-a-lifetime show at the de Young includes 150 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints from every phase of the career of the artist, who is known for his many distinct periods and styles.
John E. Buchanan Jr., director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, calls him “a protean figure who not only created and contributed to new art forms and movements, but also forever transformed the very definition of art itself.”
Major phases of Picasso’s career are illustrated by the 1904 “Celestina,” from his Blue Period, when his paintings were monochromatic in shades of blue and blue-green; the 1906 “Two Brothers” from the Rose Period, and sketches for the 1907 “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” representing proto-Cubist work.
The well-known 1911 “Man with a Guitar” is Analytic Cubism, 1915’s “Violin” is Synthetic Cubism; 1922’s “Two Women Running on the Beach” is easily recognizable Neoclassic.
Other various styles followed, as shown by 1969’s “The Kiss,” through the late-period self portrait “The Matador.”
The 20th century’s turbulent history is also addressed in Picasso’s work. World War I, the Spanish Civil War, the rise of fascism and World War II are reflected directly and with visceral intensity. Examples include the painting “Weeping Woman” (1937), and sculptures “Bull’s Head” (1942) and “Death’s Head” (1943).
Not only did Picasso reinvent his art every few years, he employed a unique personal style depicting the women in his life — wives, mistresses and friends alike.
The exhibition traces Picasso’s real-life and artistic relationship with three significant women: his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, shown in 1918’s “Portrait of Olga in an Armchair”; Mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, represented in 1932’s “Reclining Nude” and a series of bronze busts ranging from recognizable to nearly abstract; and photographer Dora Maar, a highly charged relationship in the artist’s life, seen in the jagged lines of 1937’s “Portrait of Dora Maar.”
The treasure in the de Young show cannot be translated to a dollar value. Rich as he had become, Picasso was only half joking when he said: “I don’t own any of my own paintings — it’s a luxury I can’t afford.”
Where: de Yong, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park
When: June 11 to Oct. 9
Tickets: $16 to $26
Contact: (888) 901-6645, www.deyoungmuseum.org
There is much more to the Steins than Gertrude, and the evidence is in “The Steins Collect: Picasso, Matisse and the Parisian Avant-Garde,” opening Saturday at SFMOMA.
Who were the Steins? Writer Gertrude, of course, along with her brothers Leo and Michael, Michael’s wife Sarah, and Gertrude’s famous partner, Alice B. Toklas. All five were friends, patrons and bohemian peers of Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They made up a big, colorful, famous group of artists in early-20th-century Paris.
The Steins, a middle-class Jewish family from Oakland, became an essential part of the Paris scene, at the center of a world revolution in the arts.
Some 200 items in the SFMOMA exhibit — a collaboration between SFMOMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris — draw from holdings around the world, reuniting the Steins’ unparalleled collections of modern art.
SFMOMA Curator of Painting and Sculpture Janet Bishop, who is responsible for the exhibit, says, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the role of the Steins. They were such extraordinary champions of the art of their times, embracing it as it was first being made and before other collectors appreciated it.
“Remarkably, they also opened their Left Bank apartments to pretty much anyone wishing to see their pictures. Every Saturday night, hordes of people flocked to their homes, which became, essentially, the first museums of modern art.”
Bishop tracked down records of the Steins’ activities everywhere, finding previously undiscovered studio notebooks from 1908 in the Portola Valley home of the late Daniel Stein, grandson of Michael and Sarah, who moved back from Paris to Palo Alto in 1935, the year SFMOMA was founded.
The Steins kept supporting avant-garde in geographical relays. After Leo left Paris, for example, Gertrude moved from a brief stay in San Francisco in 1907 (a year after the big quake), and continued to maintain the salon tradition in Paris.
The time coincides with the creation of Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude, one of the best-known of the works in the exhibit. It marked the beginning of an intimate friendship between the two.
Where: 151 Third St., San Francisco
When: Saturday to Sept. 6
Tickets: $18 to $27
Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org
At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a 1938 photo taken by Cecil Beaton of Gertrude Stein at her desk in Paris — and behind her on the wall, Picasso’s portrait of her — is among the most striking pieces in “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories.”
The exhibition examines Oakland’s multitalented writer-artist-hostess and the amazing visual legacy she created, through her friendship with Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne and many other great artists who made Paris the center of the New Painting and the post-Impressionist era.
CJM Director Connie Wolf calls the exhibit “a fascinating, new look at one of the most influential Jewish women of the 20th century. Her reach across the arts continues today.”
“Picturing Gertrude,” “Domestic Stein,” “The Art of Friendship,” “Celebrity Stein” and “Legacies” are the five stories in the show, which includes such objects as a homemade gift from Picasso to her and a recording of Stein reading her poem about him.
It is also about the aura of celebrity Stein cultivated, her domestic life with Alice B. Toklas, her collaborations on operas and ballets, and her triumphant book tour of the U.S.
This exhibit and the SFMOMA show reconfirm Stein’s extraordinary reach across the arts, dealing with her influence as a style-maker and pioneering social-network creator, way ahead of Facebook.
Interactive, custom-made iPad apps are part of the exhibit, allowing visitors to explore images and other material from Stein’s lecture tour across America in 1934-35, and to hear her read from her works.
Wanda M. Corn of Stanford University and Tirza Latimer of the California College of Arts curated the show, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
Where: 736 Mission St.
When: Through Sept. 6
Tickets: $8 to $10
Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org