Picasso Modigliani & Pearls

By Ilona Kauremszky

Special to The Boston Hearld

TORONTO - Hogtown is not letting a hockey strike get the best of it. Nor is Canada's largest city letting construction zones around its leading art institutions hamper a good show.

Despite all the hullabaloo around the 2006 completion date of Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, Frank Gehry's 2008 completion of a renovated Art Gallery of Ontario and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art's $15-million expansion now underway, it's business as usual.

Currently, three special exhibitions are showcasing two of 20th century's greatest artists and art from Mother Nature herself at Toronto's plum landmarks. Picasso's ceramics, Modigliani's paintings and pearls -- all rare and some on view for the first time -- are on display.

Here's a gallery snapshot:


Jackie Kennedy loved them. So did Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and so does Liz Taylor. The fragile pearl that has made a comeback in today's fashionista circles is in full splendor at the Royal Ontario Museum. Pearls: A Natural History features more than 600 objects culled from private collections and from major museums around the world.

The exhibit combines various themes and videos offering the pearl lover, history buff, biologist, and pop culture fanatic a fascinating glimpse into the world's only living gem. The show starts with a simple strand of pearls displayed in a dimly lit room with an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe. The film starlet blushed like a newlywed when Joe DiMaggio surprised her with a string of 39 round pearls he purchased as a honeymoon gift from Mikimotos on their Japan trip in 1954.

Kokichi Mikimoto revolutionized the cultured pearl phenomenon. He experimented and flooded the pearl market with them, sending the natural pearl industry over the edge. They collectively tried to sue him. It was the thirties, the Great Depression was on and so was the bitter battle over pearls, which ended when Mikimoto won, finally making the rounded jewels affordable to the twentieth century girl.

As you visit the seven exhibits other history lessons abound. In Freshwater Pearls, the pearl button making industry, popular in the 1800s, is recognized, detailing the story of John F. Boepple, a German immigrant who started a freshwater pearl button making company in Muscatine Iowa. He revolutionized pearl buttons transforming the tiny town during the early 1900's as "The Pearl Capital of the World."

But besides history, pop cultural symbols like the pearl button covered Dragon boots from the Cloud Maker production, and Holly GoLightly's prototype imitation six strand necklace as seen in "Breakfast At Tiffany's" are on view.

Even Barbara Bush, the former first lady and mother of the president, loaned her faux pearls with a coy handwritten note that reads, "I absolutely love pearls; they hide my wrinkles. I have worn them for so long that I hardly feel dressed up without them. I don't wear pearls when I golf, take a shower or go to sleep."

Modigliani: Beyond the Myth

Time Magazine once described Amedeo Modigliani as "the dissolute wild man of Montparnasse." Like many hardened thirty-something artists, the likes of excessive booze, drugs and womanizing made Modigliani a typical artist who struggled with his art and died tragically young at 35 from tubercular meningitis.

But, Modigliani: Beyond the Myth, an exhibition now on at Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario hopes to dispel that. Fresh from an extended run at The Jewish Museum in New York, this exhibition has added 30 rare pieces on display, making Toronto's show a considerably different show from New York's.

Among them is a series of crayon drawings of caryatids of which it is believed Modigliani only carved one, several oil paintings such as the Head of a Young Woman on loan from the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and rare sketches.

"It was always planned that each venue would have their own works," says associate curator Michael Parke-Taylor about the exhibition.

While Modigliani is known as a painter, he was also a sculptor using limestone, which he often found rummaging near the Paris Metro construction site where he lived in Montparnasse. At night, high on hashish, he lit candles on top and hugged his carved heads. These pieces were his "Temple of Beauty."

Today, the AGO has recreated a temple with five limestone head carvings each exposing the chisel marks. In one head, the smooth elongated lines that are signature Modigliani are captured with the long nose and face. It was always Modigliani's goal to sculpt following the footsteps of his neighbor and teacher, Brancusi. But it's believed sickness and World War I cut this aspiration short.

This exhibition exposes the edicts of religion, the immigrant experience, and his close relationships. Modigliani was a Sephardic Jew and he left his hometown of Livorno Italy to make it in bustling Paris. We see his interpretations of friends Jean Cocteau, his art dealer Mr. Zborowski and his wife Hanka and we get a haunting view of his lover Jeanne Hebuterne, a beautiful 19-year-old former student whose steely gray eyes glow beneath her masked visage.

It's not until the end of the show that the voluptuous supine nudes he painted in 1917, shortly before his death appears. These radiant women, with a ruby cheeked glow, one called the Nude With Coral Necklace (1917) has her red lips together, her pencil-thin eyes gazing outwards as she covers her private parts with her left hand while resting on a white puffy pillow and white bed sheets. In Reclining Nude (1917), her come-hither eyes stare as her pouty red lips form a coquettish look. Arms stretched above her head, her nude body strikes an evocative pose.

Ironically, it was a nude portrait that shut down Modigiani's only solo exhibition in 1917. Shortly after one of the nudes hung in the gallery shop's window, police shut it down. It was against public decency. These two nudes are original to Toronto's show and make a visit worthwhile just to see these pieces alone.

Picasso and Ceramics

Picasso's paintings marked him as one of the 20th century's master painters, but little is known about his other passion, ceramics. Until recently, his ceramic work has not been catalogued properly. But thanks to the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art's latest installation of Picasso and Ceramics, there are rare pieces demonstrating his skill and genius in clay.

Heavily researched and documented over 25 years, Leopold Foulem, a ceramist and co-curator of Picasso and Ceramics, hopes this exhibition will dispel the age old conception of little old ladies painting pottery and Picasso starting the art when he was 66. "I know many people thought ceramics are for old ladies and that Picasso did ceramics when he started to go senile. He might have been mad but not senile."

The collection ties Picasso's work to his inspirations. There are ancient Mycenaean figurines, Mediterranean antiquities and Cypriot connections with bullfight scenes, trompe l'oeil pottery of fish platters, and a bulbous study of grapes with a forlorn mosquito beside them. Rubenesque women with wide hips and rounded bosoms also found themselves on Picasso's ceramic pitchers and vases. Many of these statuesque lovelies were created after Picasso spent the summer of 1946 in the south of France.

On that trip, he and his lover Françoise Gilot visited the famous pottery town of Vallauris. Picasso met Suzanne Ramie, a potter and co-owner of the Madoura pottery workshop. The catalyst was set. He moved his family there. Suzanne and Picasso became fast friends, had plenty of exhibitions and shared a long working relationship that spanned through the 70's.

All in all, The Toronto exhibit displays 80 of the more than 4,500 ceramic pieces Picasso is thought to have made with the majority from Picasso's private family collection.

"This is a show with an attitude," says Foulem and recalls a few years ago, the Royal Academy of Arts in London and New York's the Met had a Picasso exhibition. But Foulem quickly dismisses it. "It was a show with a colonialist's attitude. It was a show called Picasso Painter and Sculptor in Clay. We don't think he was a painter and sculptor in clay. We thought he was a ceramic artist."


photos courtesy: AGO, ROM & GMCA

If You Go:

All three exhibitions are offering combination special ticket and hotel packages. The Modigliani - Picasso - Pearls Tickets and Hotel Packages are available with the Sheraton Centre Hotel; the Sutton Place Hotel; and The Fairmont Royal York.

For hotel and exhibition package call TicketKing at 1-800-461-3333 before January 23, 2005.

Tickets for any one, two or three of the exhibitions may be combined with special room rate offers at the partner hotels or purchased separately. The Modigliani - Picasso - Pearls Hotel Packages are available for as low as $107 U.S. per person, based on double occupancy with one adult ticket to any two of the three exhibitions.

For all three exhibitions and one night's accommodation, the package is $115 U.S. per person.

Pearls: A Natural History
At The Royal Ontario Museum is on now through January 9, 2005.
Admission prices: Adults $15 on weekdays/ $18 on weekends
Students & Seniors with ID $12 on weekdays/ $15 on weekends
Children $10; Infants (4 & under) are admitted free

Modigliani: Beyond the Myth
Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Modigliani: Beyond The Myth runs until January 23, 2005
Admission Prices: Adults: $18, Family $40, Youth 6-15 $12, Seniors/Students $15
Tickets may be purchased online www.ago.net or in person at the AGO box office or by calling TicketKing 1-800-461-3333

Picasso and Ceramics
Presented by the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art at the University of Toronto Art Centre 15 King's College Circle
Picasso and Ceramics is now on and closes January 23, 2005.
Admission Prices: Adults $16, Seniors and Students $12, Children $10 under 4 are free. Tickets are available through Ticketking at 1.800.461.3333, online at www.ticketking.com or at the door.

dispatches | q&a | photos | fork | newsletter | archives | links | search | store | streaming | submissions | about | contact | home

All text & photos © mycompass.ca 2002-10.