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Picasso reigns over modern art history as a figure of mammoth importance. A Picasso exhibit, or even a painting, is a coup and a crowd-pleaser for a museum. But the artist’s fame can make viewing his work daunting, especially to an inexperienced viewer abruptly confronted with 70 years of groundbreaking work. Pairing Picassoshowing at the MFA Boston until June 26, breaks the artist down into a digestible series of seven pairings of painting, drawing, and sculpture.

IMG_6786The intimate scale allows viewers to engage with each work and compare it to curated counterparts. One pairing juxtaposes two smaller-scale upper-body portraits of women. The women face each other as though engaging in a conversation. To the left the cubist bust is alive with color. Her green and purple hair sits on a background of mint, while red lines on her face (blood, tears?) illuminate her wide eyes. Her counterpart gazes out a window, pressing her hands to the glass. The black and white palette enhances the feeling of imprisonment. Alone this woman might be gazing out at a retreating lover or waiting for an important letter to arrive. But in this pairing she gazes longingly at the vibrant woman outside, the woman with all the freedom she lacks.

Color divides many of the works in the exhibit. A pairing of two large paintings on one wall leans heavily on color to differentiate two scenes. Both paintings depict the Rape of the Sabine Women, but one, in full color, looks comical and nonthreatening, while the black-and-white reeks of violence on the level of Guernica. Medium too, makes all the difference. One sculpture, a head, is included in the exhibit, along with a few of Picasso’s sketches. The earliest is a startling reminder of Picasso’s talent in traditional drawing. The realistic technique depicts an impeccable seated female portrait. It serves as a subtle reminder that the artist could work conventionally, but chose Cubism.

Pairing Picasso is on view at the MFA Boston through June 26.

Photo is mine.