Picasso - Woman with Outstretched ArmsAnybody who considers him or herself an artist, in any discipline, should be aware of Picasso and his art. Whether you like it or not (And how could you not?) the Spanish painter/sculptor/ceramist/designer’s work is at the core of understanding the shape of things that define our world.

Picasso: Black and White features over 100 works that cover Picasso’s career from the earliest years of the 20th century to some large canvas and painted metal sheeting that represents his output in the latter decades of his life. The exhibit is open at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston until May 27.

In a sense this is a show about dead art just as surely as Picasso reinvented the wheel. Can you imagine being in the presence of a Picasso or a Dali, and trying to hold a conversation. I for one would be overwhelmed in a way not obvious when meeting famous directors or actors or politicians (the latter you probably want to avoid). Or to sum up Picasso’s mystique by pulling some lyrics from the John Cale song “Pablo Picasso” where Cale starts off mentioning that the guy was “five-foot, three-inches:”

… But girls could not resist his stare

Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole

Not in New York.”

Popular opinion has Picasso standing at least five-foot, four-inches; but almost all artists will admit they’re assholes.0222131150

As one walks into the show, stunningly popping out against big rooms with white walls strutting its restricted palette and monochrome beauty, you walk past a full size recreation of Picasso’s most famous painting Guernica. Only this is the Guernica Tapestry, a work that Picasso signed off on, and was commissioned by the Rockefeller Estate in 1955. Instead of black and white this woven work uses browns and Earth tones. Doesn’t that say it all: the last century’s master fornicator being subsidized by a family whose scions would enact our nation’s toughest drug laws. That’s art baby.

I’d recommend doing this show a couple of times. The first time you’ll be overwhelmed and perhaps even lapse into The Stendhal Syndrome. You find that certain of the works speak to you and you’re left motionless in front of say the 1957 Maids of Honor, a canvas that suggests cluttered existence but which also looks like a jumbled image from a film noir movie. Or you might realize that the 1908 Head of A Man is etched over the erased nude study of a woman.Picasso - The Maids of Honor

The second time you gravitate towards other works that seem to take on a formerly unseen pulchritude.

The curator at the media preview, Carmen Giménez, an unequivocal Picasso scholar, explains how Picasso’s influences include everything from cave paintings to Greek and Roman tonalities to other great classic Spanish artists like de Goya, El Greco and Velázquez to name a few. This woman would be the best source to ask about a story I’d heard about Picasso. When the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911 was Picasso picked up by French police as a suspect I ask her. Giménez laughs and shakes her head no. Sure Picasso was always hanging out at the Louvre but that’s just an old rumor.

— Michael Bergeron