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Joslyn show captures Picasso's evolving style

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Pablo Picasso is one of the most prolific artists in modern history.

The Spaniard created 13,500 paintings, 34,000 book illustrations and 300 sculptures. He also made nearly 100,000 prints, 92 of which are on display at the Joslyn Art Museum as part of "Picasso: Master Printmaker."

If it's possible to capture the essence and constant evolving style of arguably the most famous 20th century artist, this exhibit does so. It tracks Picasso's printmaking prowess from 1921 to 1951, following him through cubism, neoclassicism, surrealism and expressionism.

The figures -- mostly women and animals -- range from detailed and realistic to simple and abstract. In them, Picasso delves into his original style but also references important influences, including Rembrandt and Manet.

In early works, Picasso shows a strong grasp for classical artistic skill. He finely and accurately captures the likeness of figures. He shows he knows the rules, which gives him license to break them. And break them he does.

"Two Nude Women" is Picasso's cubism at its height, combining a classic scene -- a reclining nude -- with his signature style. It hearkens to his large sculpture in Chicago. That and other pieces -- bullfighting prints that look almost like ink spots, for example -- show the flair that makes Picasso such a vibrant personality in art history.

Being able to see his transforming style is something special, but this exhibit goes even deeper than that. It is an extremely personal look at a painter who has been exalted to near-mythical status. It humanizes him, which makes the work resonate even more.

The most interesting aspect of "Picasso: Master Printmaker" is his portrayal of his many lovers. Five of Picasso's six lovers are portrayed in the exhibit -- wives Olga Kokhlova and Jacqueline Roque and mistresses Marie-Therese Walter, Dora Maar and Francoise Gilot.

Many of the pieces in the exhibit, including his masterpiece "The Minotauromachia," deal with his emotional turmoil surrounding his women. The main conflict featured in the Joslyn exhibit is between his first wife, Kokhlova, and his then-mistress, Walter. The artist had impregnated his mistress and wanted to divorce his wife but couldn't without losing half of his estate, including a vast quantity of artwork.

He remained married to Kokhlova through his affair with Walter. As that relationship also soured, he took more mistresses, including Maar and Gilot.

Comparing his portrayal of the women is intriguing. In an early print, Kokhlova is presented in a gentle, realistic, black-and- white manner. It's a straightforward rendering, something unusual for Picasso.

Nearly 20 years later, he portrays Maar in a similar pose but in a completely different, cartoonlike style. Her facial features are out of proportion and she's colored in an extreme manner with rosy red cheeks and dark brown hair.

The exhibit isn't only about his love life. It features some interesting print series, which show Picasso's perfectionist approach to art. He makes small additions or shifts in each rendering to make it more to his liking.

Two other pieces are especially interesting. "Two Catalonian Drinkers" features the juxtaposition of two styles in one work, as highly detailed and simplistic, free-flowing figures interact.

Because the display is so dedicated to black-and-white prints -- detailing Picasso's expertise in combining dark and light for dramatic effect -- any piece with color sticks out. The bright red and yellow "Bulls in Vallouris" especially jumps from the Joslyn's walls.

Whether it's a simple rendering, a complex, detailed scene or a bright splash of color, the exhibit has it. With nearly 100 pieces, though, it's difficult to fully grasp and appreciate the volume of work.

Still, having access to too much Picasso is a nice problem.

Picasso: Master Printmaker

Where: Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. When: Through Dec. 31; Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Admission: $3.50 to $6; free Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon.

(C) 2005 Omaha World-Herald. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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