Picasso at the Guggenheim
There is a wonderful show up at the Guggenheim Museum right now, called Picasso in Black and White. It takes up the whole of the spiral ramp, from top to bottom, which is how I always prefer to see their shows, even if it involves going in reverse chronological order, as it does this time. It's easier by far to take the elevator to the top floor and glide down from Picasso's maturity to his youth, rather than trudging uphill to watch him develop--and since he didn't actually "develop," but just changed his skin every few years, he is one of those rare artists who can easily be viewed from either direction.
The amazing thing is that, even if you confine yourself to these primarily grayscale works (the curators cheat a little, allowing a tint of blue or yellow or lavender to intrude here and there), you can pretty much represent the whole of Picasso's career. At the top level, in the 1960s, are some fascinating works that somewhat resemble the designs he was doing on plates in those years, though in this case they are black-and-white paintings, often of schematically portrayed men and women. At the bottom is the lovely, intensely moving Woman Ironing, which the Guggenheim itself owns, and which the artist completed in 1904, when he was still doing largely figurative work. And in between lie early cubist figures leading toward Demoiselles d'Avignon; monochrome versions of the Blue and Rose periods; the flat, angular, disembodied females he was doing in the late Twenties and early Thirties; horse heads and other sketches for Guernica; a black-white-and-gray group portrait from the same period as MOMA's Four Musicians with Dog, this one set in a milliner's shop; paintings, sculptures, and drawings of Marie-Therese, Jacqueline, and the other important women in his life; and numerous other delights that I've never seen before. What is most remarkable is that this master of color, whom I associate so strongly with the vivid hues of, say, Woman with a Book (at the Norton Simon) or Woman in the Mirror (at MOMA), should turn out to be so completely a master of form that he triumphs just as powerfully when color is removed.
This enormous and exhausting exhibit would take many hours on many days to absorb thoroughly, and so far I've only been once. But it is up until January 23, so I can go again, and so can you, even if you are coming from out of town. This is a show not to be missed.