"Good artists copy, great artists steal," quipped Pablo Picasso. Seemingly taking direction from the famous painter, two of the most prestigious art museums in New York have ironically similar exhibits featuring Picasso's works: The Whitney Museum of American Art has Picasso and American Art, while the Guggenheim Museum has Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso. Although the focus on place and the consortium of artists are different, both museums are strikingly similar in that they hang Picasso's works side-by-side with other artists' paintings to explore their similarities.
Picasso is not the central artist featured in the Guggenheim exhibit, but its title, Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History, clearly emphasizes the author's importance. According to the museum's website:
Unlike other overviews that display paintings in a strictly chronological order, this exhibition is broken into fifteen distinct sections, each based on a theme running through the past five centuries of Spanish culture. These thematic axes highlight affinities between the art of the old masters and that of the modern era, and challenge conventional art histories that would seek to separate them. Accordingly, works from different periods appear side by side within each section, offering often radical juxtapositions that cut across time to reveal the overwhelming coherence of the Spanish tradition.
With this in mind, Picasso's The Infanta Margarita María from The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas), after Velázquez (1957), is positioned next to Diego Velázquez's Portrait of Queen Mariana (ca. 1656).
Meanwhile, over at the Whitney, the Picasso and American Art exhibit illustrates how even though the artist never lived in the States his groundbreaking ideas revolutionized American art. The show aligns Picasso's work with that of later pop artists and abstract expressionists. By juxtaposing Roy Lichtenstein's Beach Scene with Starfish (1995) next to Picasso's Bathers with Beach Ball (1928), for example, you see that artists didn't even bother to hide the fact they borrowed Picasso's idea for preposterous caricatures behind new subject matter.
So which exhibit is better? That depends on a couple of things:
+ IF YOU WANT TO SEE MORE ABOUT PICASSO: The Whitney features 40 of his works and shows how he influenced other artists.
+ IF YOU LIKE MORE REALISTIC ART: The Guggenheim includes more true-to-life paintings because it emphasizes an older time period (16th to 20th century), while the Whitney's collection is more abstract.
+ HOW BUSY YOU ARE: Between shopping for the holidays and returning unwanted gifts, you might not have time to make it to the Whitney before its exhibit closes on January 28, 2007. The Guggenheim exhibit doesn't shut down till March 28, 2007.
+ HOW YOUR NEW YEAR'S EVE GOES: Both museums are closed on Christmas, but the Guggenheim is open New Year's Day.
+ HOW CHEAP YOU ARE: At $15, the Whitney is three dollars cheaper than the Guggenheim.
+ IF YOUR FRIDAY-NIGHT DATE LIKES ART: Pay-what-you-wish admission on Fridays is longer at the Whitney. Compare 6-9 PM to the Guggenheim's 5:45-7:45 PM.
+ WHEN YOU CAN PLAY HOOKEY: The Guggenheim is only closed on Thursday, while the Whitney is closed both Monday and Tuesday.
+ IF YOU'RE HUNGRY: Guggenheim has its Museum Cafe, while the Whitney has the more reputable Sarabeth's Restaurant.
If you want to fully understand Picasso, though it’s better to visit both museums to discover his influences as well as the artists he inspired.