Pablo Picasso is six artists rolled into one. He was the inventor of cubism, a master of classical painting, a leader of the French avant-garde, a surrealist, a sculptor and a printmaker. He is, according to University of Richmond art history professor Margaret Denton, the dominant 20th-century artist. And now, he's in Richmond, Va.
"Picasso: Masterpieces for the Musee National Picasso, Paris" opened Saturday, Feb. 19 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and will run through May 15.
The exhibition is composed of 176 works from Picasso's personal collection -- works that he kept with the intent of shaping his legacy.
Alexander L. Nyerges, the director of the museum, called the exhibition "a wonderful eight-decade overview of a name that needs no explanation."
"It's an opportunity for Richmond to see great art from the best collection on the planet of Picasso's work," he said.
The collection normally lives at the Musee National Picasso in Paris, but it is traveling until 2012 while the museum is renovated.
Richmond is the only East Coast stop on the nine-city tour.
"It's just great because when you think about all of the large museums in D.C., New York, Philadelphia, all up and down the East Coast -- Richmond got it," said Pryor Green, who graduated from Richmond in 2006 and works in communications at the museum.
Senior Amy Nicholas had a firsthand view of the frenzy surrounding the most significant exhibition in the museum's history. She interned in the museum's communications department this semester.
"There's never a dull moment," she said. "Every day I'm like, 'I can't believe I'm doing this.'"
Nicholas got to see the exhibit before it opened to the public, and she said she was moved by how groundbreaking the works were.
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"I kept thinking when I was looking at the exhibition that we're all so used to seeing his stuff," she said, "but I can't imagine what our reaction would be if it was the first time we saw something like that."
The collection is unique because viewers get to view Picasso's work through his eyes, Green said.
"Picasso himself is the curator of this exhibition," she said. "He pulled these pieces from each period of his life as what he viewed as the best representation of his work."
The works are arranged chronologically, so viewers can walk through the 10 galleries and see how Picasso's style evolved over time.
The works range from 1901, when Picasso was 20 years old, to 1972, one year before he died. The collection comprises pieces from all of Picasso's stylistic genres: the Blue Period, the Rose Period, early Cubism, Cubism, classicism and Surrealism.
In addition to paintings, the collection includes sculptures, drawings and photographs by and of Picasso.
The exhibition is expected to generate abundant tourism and inject $25 to $35 million into the Richmond economy, Nyerges said. (The museum collaborated with the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau to form that estimate.)
The museum has already sold more than 34,000 tickets, which is more than 10 times as many presale tickets as any other show the museum has had, he said. The museum is expecting 200,000 visitors by the time the exhibit closes, and maybe as many as 250,000.
Many local businesses are clamoring to get a piece of the Picasso pie: Hotels are offering special Picasso packages and other local businesses, including Delux, Europa, Eurotrash, Nacho Mamas, Strawberry Street Cafe and Carytown Cupcakes, are offering discounts to patrons with ticket stubs from the exhibit.
When asked how the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts landed the monumental exhibit, Nyerges said: "I answered the phone."
Nyerges had received a phone call from a director at the Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, with whom Nyerges is close friends.
The San Francisco museum had already landed the exhibit and was looking for an East Coast partner, Nyerges said. His friend wanted an answer within 24 hours.
"If we had hesitated, it would have been lost," Nyerges said. "Atlanta, New York, Boston -- if they had known it was available, they would have been pushing to get to the front of the line."
Denton called the victory a real coup for the Virginia museum.
"I think it's a real nod to the Virginia museum that they have become a major player," she said.
The landmark exhibit comes on the heels of a $200 million expansion that made the Virginia museum the 10th largest comprehensive art museum in the United States.
"The museum is really impressive on its own," Denton said. "I've been to a lot of museums all over the world and the Virginia museum can really compete."
Denton saw Picasso's collection at the Musee National Picasso in Paris and said that students should take advantage of the opportunity to go see the exhibit while it's in Richmond.
"You should encourage people to go because there's nothing like seeing the real thing," she said. "That's really the only way you can get the impact of it."
Additionally, this collection contains many works that you won't see in standard art books, she said.
Kate Houck, president of the UR Art Club, said she wouldn't miss the exhibit for the world.
"This exhibit is one of the most exciting things to hit the VMFA in the past four years I've been a student here," she said.
Denton recommended that students get their tickets as soon as possible, in case they sell out.
Student tickets for the exhibit cost $16 and regular priced tickets cost $20. Nyerges pointed out that students can save money by buying memberships: admission is free to members, and student memberships to the museum are only $10.
Contact reporter Ali Eaves at firstname.lastname@example.org
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