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Art in The Burg: “Picasso: A Life in Print” at Susquehanna Art Museum

Summer steams ahead.

One month into the season and July is almost over. The bulls have run in Pamplona and the Bastille has been stormed…and this past Friday night, 3rd in the Burg took place. Hope you were there. After all, Picasso is in town.

There is plenty of great art in the world. Major cities that house grand museums vie for blockbuster exhibitions all the time. So, not only is it noteworthy but truly impressive when a museum in a city the size of Harrisburg shows an A-list artist—and has an entire summer for the public to view it.

“Picasso: A Life in Print” (45 years of collecting from the John Szoke Gallery) runs through Sept. 22 at the Susquehanna Art Museum.

There is a bit of kismet as to how it came to be.

The John Szoke Gallery in New York City has made its reputation since 1974 as being a collector/purveyor of works on paper featuring prominent artists like Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch. The SAM director of exhibitions, Lauren Nye, happened to return materials to the gallery on an unrelated matter when she struck up a conversation with the gallery owner. When Nye inquired about featuring Picasso prints at SAM, her request was met by his emphatic response that the only museum/gallery in Pennsylvania that could show the exhibit would be that of his “artistic adviser,” Alice Anne Schwab, executive director of SAM. And that is the genesis of the exhibit coming to Harrisburg.

In a time when the world shrinks more by the day, it is refreshing to learn that personal ties trump technology.

Ross Tyger, SAM’s special events manager, was the gatekeeper on Friday night, greeting us in the grand lobby. Moments later, Schwab graciously gave her time to share the wonderful backstory to the exhibit. Pianist Ralph Diekemper accompanied the exhibit in the upstairs, main gallery, adding to its dazzling brilliance.

This exhibit eschews excess by focusing on a specific portfolio of Picasso prints. With no formal training in the medium, Picasso became proficient in printmaking through years of practice and perseverance. While working in only black and white through etchings and drawings, he later incorporated color and expanded to lithography, using his paintings to reach a greater audience. His thirst for knowledge placed him at the press learning from master printmakers, Eugene Delatre and Louis Fort.

Highlights in the collection of etchings and drypoints, all vital works indeed, feature 15 from “Suite des Saltimbanques,” which capture a certain earthiness put forth by the young Picasso, who was 24 at the time. He depicted the group of friends that he knew as circus performers for this study. Understated in a spare yet true to Picasso style, the etchings are remarkable for their realism. They capture a certain freedom of spirit in spite of the subject’s poverty.

The other two groupings are from “Suite Vollard,” which encapsulates 100 prints commissioned by renowned art dealer, Ambroise Vollard. These represent Picasso’s first major venture in printmaking. The “Caisse a’ Remards” prints demonstrate Picasso pushing at the parameters of art and exploding them as he saw fit, creating his own personal vision. Picasso produced more than 2,000 prints in his lifetime, and this capsule collection centers on his initial pursuit of printmaking, revealing an artist finding his calling and embracing art for the entire span of his life.

Creativity lies at the very heart of genius. Genius is a label attributed to many but deserved by few. Pablo Picasso qualifies as an artist of true genius who created his own sphere of influence across many art forms.

The artist said it best.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it,” he said.

Picasso today is as legendary for his ever-changing mistresses, muses and marriages as being the father of modern art. In helping to advance cubism, Picasso changed the canvas of art forever. Drawing from real-life relationships, both collegial and romantic, he made the most of all human involvement, seizing the essence of others, pouring them onto his palette, mixing personality with potency in producing a provenance precisely his own.

Picasso revolutionized art, and the way the world views it, thinks about it and appreciates it. His fundamental understanding of art provides a universal commentary in that, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” So, take a moment and escape from the summer heat for a cool dip into the pool of “Picasso: A Life in Print” before it evaporates right before your eyes.

“Picasso: A Life in Print” runs through Sept. 22 at the Susquehanna Art Museum, 1401 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. Visit

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