ART 101: Picasso to Pollock

Pablo Picasso, The Studio, 1934, Oil on canvas.

Modern Masterworks at the Speed Art Museum

Story by Laura Ross

“You could talk about Picasso all day long, and how special is this? It’s a rare, incredible, one-time opportunity to experience so many 20th century masterworks at the Speed. There are so many treasures to see.”

Erika Holmquist-Wall – the Speed Art Museum’s Chief Curator and Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Curator of European and American Paintings and Sculpture – can barely contain her excitement about the Speed’s latest exhibition.

“Picasso to Pollock: Modern Masterworks” from the Eskenazi Museum of Art” showcases the impressive early 20th century art collection owned by the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University. It covers the breadth of nearly every major artistic movement that occurred between the years 1900 and 1950 in Europe and America. The exhibition opens on June 16 and runs through January 13, 2019, at the Speed Art Museum. Picasso to Pollock is the first in a five-year series of collaborations and collection exchanges between the Speed Art Museum and the Eskenazi Museum of Art, which was announced earlier this year. The Eskenazi Museum of Art is closed for expansive renovations, and in the meantime, many works from its collection will appear at the Speed Art Museum.

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, 1951, Silkscreen on paper.

Picasso to Pollock features more than 70 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, including highlights by Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Henry Moore and Jackson Pollock.

“During this period, traditional notions about making art were completely upended as artists explored radical new approaches to color, form and content,” said Holmquist-Wall. “Boundaries were pushed via revolutionary new ways of thinking.”

The exhibition serves as a basic primer in early 20th century modern Western art. Gallery themes include wars and revolution, abstraction, cubism, Dada and surrealism, expressionism and urban life, with emphasis on the creative process and artistic experimentation. Featured artists in addition to Picasso, Rivera, Moore and Pollock include Georges Braque, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Muenter, Egon Schiele, Isamu Noguchi, Kay Sage and Paul Klee.

“It’s really a ‘Modern Art 101’ history class in five galleries,” said Holmquist-Wall. “Life was changing so rapidly – there were all the social, cultural and geopolitical changes, both World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, the Russian Revolution, not to mention the rapid evolution of technology and the rise of the modern city.” 

The chaos, both good and bad, of the early 20th century saw artists react to the hectic world around them. “Everything was moving so quickly,” she added. “As a result, the ‘rules’ of creativity were thrown out the window. Every work in this exhibition is a response to the crazy world around them. It was a new way of thinking, based on reaction and response.”

Abraham Rattner, Place of Darkness, 1943, Oil on canvas.

Visitors of Picasso to Pollock will receive a solid grounding in modern art. “It’s so different from the Impressionist movement of the late 19th century,” said Holmquist-Wall. “Artists are now free to experiment with color, form and shape. The world didn’t make any sense, so why should how we perceive it make sense?”

Holmquist-Wall said the eye-opening exhibition turns traditional views of art on its head and shows the ups and downs of the creative process. “These artists were finding their visual language among all the noise of the early 20th century,” she said. “Everyone was making sense of chaos. It’s not a neat story easily tied up with a bow. Many of the artists were young and felt their art would change the world, and that can be shocking to some people. Every artist in this show pushed those buttons.”

The show is tied together by the creative process, explained Holmquist-Wall. “Remember, this is the very first time, with the advent of photography, that captured images of the artists at work in their studios. It’s the first time you had rock star artists whose personal lives and careers were sometimes as impressive as the art they created.

“Personal photographs of Picasso are ubiquitous, and you have the famous images of Pollock in LIFE magazine,” she continued. “That’s revolutionary and shows the curtain drawn back from the mystery of the artist at work.”

Charmion von Wiegand, Image of Abundance, 1956, Oil on canvas.

While modern art can be difficult for some to interpret, this exhibition is not designed to be intimidating; it’s meant to explain the art and make it as accessible as possible. Through informative text, descriptions on movements, photographs of artists at work and video footage, the Speed show contextualizes the events that the artists were reacting to, including war, technology and how people live and work in real life. A podcast produced by the Speed Art Museum will guide visitors throughout the exhibition.

While this art has been in Louisville’s backyard for years at IU, it’s an important opportunity for both museums to emphasize the partnership between the Eskenazi and the Speed.

”This partnership is remarkable for several reasons,” said Stephen Reily, director of the Speed Art Museum. “One is the opportunity to share real masterpieces from one of the country’s great museum collections with a broader audience in Louisville and our region. It gives us five years to organize many exhibitions from the Eskenazi while it is closed for renovation (and after), and then gives IU time to share works from the Speed’s collection with students and the people of Bloomington. Museums in the same region sometimes consider each other competitors when they should be friends. We are proud to model a new kind of regional partnership between museums.”

The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s encyclopedic collection – notable for both its breadth and quality – places it alongside the Speed as being among the best art museums in the region.

“This collaboration supports exhibitions and other curatorial programming and gives our audiences the opportunity to see works that are new to them,” explained Jenny McComas, the Eskenazi Museum’s Curator of European and American Art. “There is also an important educational component to the partnership, as students from IU-Southeast will be engaged with the exhibitions in Louisville. Indiana University students will benefit from the presence of works from the Speed’s collection in Bloomington after the Eskenazi reopens.”

“Although the Eskenazi’s holdings of modern art include major works by many of the 20th century’s most significant artists, the collection is not widely known among the general public,” said David Brenneman, Wilma E. Kelley Director of the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Similar to the Speed’s free admission policy for University of Louisville students, faculty and staff, Indiana University students, faculty and staff will also receive free admission with a photo ID while the exhibitions are on view.

“Everyone is so excited,” said Holmquist-Wall. “It’s a timely show, as our world is currently in a tumultuous state, much like the early 20th century. The art and discussions around the social issues feels very relevant now. Every exhibition we do at the Speed grows the next one. This is a collection of art we haven’t been able to share previously. We can’t wait for our visitors to enjoy this amazing experience.” V

Picasso to Pollock: Modern Masterworks from the Eskenazi Museum of Art

Speed Art Museum, 2035 South Third St.

June 16 – Jan. 13, 2019

Celebrating Picasso to Pollock:

Members-Only Preview Party: 7 to 9 p.m.  June 14

Members event: Tour of “Picasso to Pollock,” 1:30 p.m. June 27

Public opening:  June 16

Patron Circle event:

Coffee with the curator and tour of the exhibition: 10 a.m. June 29

After Hours at the Speed: Each popular After Hours at the Speed event (5 to 10 p.m.) will feature special happenings around Picasso to Pollock on June 15, July 20, Aug. 17, Sept. 21, Oct. 19, Nov. 16 and Dece. 21. See website for details.


Man Ray, Gift, 1921, Iron, steel, glue, assisted ready-made.


Morris Louis, Beth Aleph, 1959-1960, Acrylic on canvas.