Amazingly, only a few decades ago the jury was still out on Picasso, with some critics, journalists and historians still expressing skepticism over whether the modernist revolution he helped usher in would truly prove a lasting contribution to the world's cultural heritage.
Today there seems absolutely no doubt about the magnitude or permanence of Picasso's achievement. Picasso is universally acknowledged as one of the great figures in the history of European art.
As a result, these days any exhibition of the master's work is a significant event, and the modestly scaled show Pablo Picasso: Surrealism and the War Years 1926-1946, now on view in the Cone Focus Gallery at the Baltimore Museum of Art, is no exception.
This is the fourth mini-exhibition on Picasso that the BMA has mounted in the smaller gallery since the Cone Wing reopened in 2001. Previous exhibitions there were Picasso: the Circus, Picasso: Portrait and Figure and Picasso: Cubism to Classicism - all, like the present show, curated by Jay Fisher, BMA deputy director for curatorial affairs.
The last in this series, Surrealism and the War Years may also be the most difficult to grasp, both visually and conceptually.
During this period, Picasso, a relentless experimenter, created some of his most challenging works, drawing on a wide range of influences that included his contemporaries, his earlier work, art history from many cultures, the social upheavals of his day and his tumultuous personal life.
Although he often exhibited with the surrealists gathered around the French poet and critic Andre Breton, Picasso strenuously resisted being identified with any single movement, style or interpretation of his art.
As Fisher notes, "Rather than creating a direct visual commentary on the consequences of war or his own personal turmoil, Picasso constructed complex imagery which cloaked temporal concerns in a more universal statement, his passionate belief in the transformative power of creativity."
Picasso was fascinated by the surrealist project of representing the irrational, unconscious element of human behavior, which he identified with both mindless destruction and artistic creativity.
He repeatedly invoked the figure of the Minotaur, a mythical Greek monster that was half man and half bull, to represent the violent, uncontrollable passions he felt in the world around him.
As in previous Picasso shows, this exhibition presents works in several media, from drawings and paintings to etchings, engravings and lithographs.
A masterful drawing of Picasso by his fellow Spanish painter Salvadore Dali, densely symbolic prints of Picasso's mistress and muse Marie-Therese and a savage political satire of Gen. Francisco Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain are part of the exhibit.
This is a rich and challenging exploration of a crucial period in the career of one of the 20th century's most seminal artists, and it is well worth seeing. The show continues through Aug. 29.
The museum is at 10 Art Museum Drive. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Admission is $5-$7. Call 410-396-7100.
For more art events, see Page 39.