Pace Palo Alto is not a large gallery space, but it has been expertly and imaginatively transformed with each exhibition. For the current show, "Seeing Picasso: Maker of the Modern," the gallery has become very museum-like, with a light barrier drapery in the front window, security guards and an optional audio guide. The reason for such formality is Pablo Picasso -- perhaps the most famous modern artist and a name familiar to most, either because of his art or his turbulent private life.
"Seeing Picasso" (on view until Feb. 16) is a mini-retrospective, with paintings, drawings, ceramics and sculptures from the entire arc of the artist's long and prolific career. It's an opportunity to view seldom-seen works from private collections as well as examples of his work that would ordinarily require a trip to New York City.
"Marc Glimcher, president and CEO of Pace Gallery, has worked on this show for 18 months," explained Elizabeth Sullivan, Pace Palo Alto president. "He really wanted to bring Picasso to Palo Alto and we are thrilled that the lenders also wanted to do a show here."
Some of the pieces are from unnamed private collectors but there are also loans from the Fundacion Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, which is overseen by the artist's grandson and his wife.
Pace is a sales gallery but the purpose of this show is mainly educational, with only seven of the 35 objects available for sale. Sullivan said she hopes there will be a lot of outreach with the show, especially given the name-recognition of Picasso.
"We want to do special programs for local school children, bringing them into the gallery and doing projects," she said.
Information about the artist is imparted in the entry gallery by means of an illustrated timeline that details all of the major events during the life of Picasso (1881-1973). It is a remarkable chronology of a man who came from humble beginnings in Malaga, Spain, and was, from the outset, a child prodigy. As a young man, he settled in Paris, endured two world wars, poverty and the derision of critics. He eventually became a leader in several of the most important avant-garde art movements that informed modern art as we know it today.
The second and third galleries are installed in chronological order, allowing the viewer to fully grasp the well-known periods that delineate Picasso's work. His early work, characterized by his training in the classical approach to representation, is exemplified by "Lola with a Doll" (1896) and "The Dead Casagemas" (1901). Both are true-to-life portraits, undertaken in a realistic style. There is obvious tenderness toward the subjects of these works, especially in the portrayal of Casagemas, whose suicide would send Picasso into a deep depression that lasted several years.
Several charcoal drawings of women reflect the artist's transition from realism to abstraction. By 1910, he had begun to fracture the human form, as can be seen in "Standing Woman." This would be the beginning of his "analytical cubism" phase, with monochromatic canvasses full of overlapping forms. "Bust of a Man" (1912) is a study in geometry and how the artist strove to draw the figure from multiple angles. His "synthetic cubism" phase is included here in "Sliced Pear and Pipe" (1914).
Always a bit of a shape-shifter, Picasso next took on a Neoclassicism, apparently inspired by a trip to Italy where he saw paintings from the Renaissance. In "Study of Hands" (1920) and "Three Women by the Fountain" (1921) the artist has returned to realism, although the figures are quite rounded and bulky.
Picasso flirted with surrealism, although he never became an official member of that group. Examples here include both sculptures done in bronze and plaster and a very enigmatic charcoal on canvas entitled "Woman with a Flower" (1932). In what seems like a continuous line, the artist has created a seated figure with both organic and geometric forms.
It has been noted that Picasso's style changed dramatically with each of his love affairs. There are extraordinary examples of Picasso paying homage to wives and lovers here, beginning with a sweet portrait of Marie-Therese Walter. She is painted in an almost child-like manner, with pastel colors and the hint of a smile. In contrast, "Woman with Hand on a Key" (1938) depicts photographer Dora Maar in strong shades of green and purple, her facial features disjointed. "Seated Woman" (1949) is a portrait of Francoise Gilot, the mother of two of Picasso's children and the only woman to have ever left him. Her face is sketchily drawn, while her body is a bulbous blue shape. The overlapping forms suggest the outlines of an ochre-colored chair, with just enough detail for the mind to fill in the gaps.
There are numerous examples of Picasso's ceramic work, undertaken in the latter part of his life. "Bikini Vase" (1961) was created using red earthenware in a classic vase shape, onto which the artist has painted a bright yellow bathing suit top and bottom. It's a fun and clever piece and reflects the artist's joie de vivre.
The latest piece in the exhibition is "Head of a Man with Beret" from 1971, two years prior to his death. It is, perhaps, a sombre self-portrait done in an amalgam of styles by an artist who lived life to the fullest and left an indelible legacy.
There is a lot to take in here, including an audio-visual tour narrated by Stanford University professor Alexander Nemerov, which perhaps warrants multiple visits. Noted Sullivan, "Because there are so many pieces in this small space, we want you to keep coming back."
Freelance writer Sheryl Nonnenberg can be emailed at email@example.com.
What: "Seeing Picasso: Maker of the Modern."
Where: Pace Gallery, 229 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.
When: Through Feb. 16. Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.