In 2013 Jay-Z, one of the most commercially successful rappers of all time, put on a six-hour performance of his track “Picasso Baby” at Pace Gallery in New York, reclaiming and celebrating the relationship between hip-hop and the arts. The song, in which Jay-Z expresses his admiration for artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons and, of course, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, (Sample lyric: “I just want a Picasso/in my casa”) is just one example of the palpable and wide-reaching impact of the Spanish artist on today’s art and culture.
With his introduction of radical approaches to painting and sculpture, and his groundbreaking distortion of the human form, Picasso (1881-1973) made an indelible mark on modern art, the traces of which can be found in cities worldwide. Almost half a century after his death, you can travel the world to discover the life and work of this great master, much like fans who follow their favorite bands on tour.
MÁLAGA: WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
We start our tour in Málaga, the birthplace of Picasso and the city that inspired a great deal of his work. In recent years, Málaga has turned heads as a cultural destination with the opening of outposts of both Musée Pompidou and the St Petersburg State Russian Museum, but long before that Málaga was already home to two crowd-drawing museums, both dedicated to the work of Picasso.
Málaga is home to three Iberostar hotels, all of them on the beachfront and all of them ideal places to relax during your stay. Try authentic Andalusian cuisine in Marbella at Iberostar Marbella Coral Beach, enjoy a range of activities for you and your children at the family hotel Iberostar Málaga Playa in Torrox or or relax at the SPA Sensations in Estepona at Iberostar Costa del Sol before heading into town to begin your tour of the traces Picasso left on the city.
Fundación Picasso, located in the bustling Plaza de la Merced in the very building where the artist was born and lived until the age of ten, aims to study and promote his work. It was in this very plaza that Picasso painted his first work, The Yellow Picador (1889), when he was only eight years old.
The foundation includes a Birthplace Museum, with a room that recreates the living room of the Ruiz Picasso family, and displays photos and ephemera of the family and 19th-century Málaga as well as some early work and writing by Picasso. Fundación Picasso also organizes temporary exhibitions on different topics related to the Spanish artist as well as work by other artists he has influenced. Guided tours of the Birthplace Museum and Exhibition Room are available Monday through Thursday and are a great way to learn more about the display. Once you leave the museum, you will spot a bronze statue of the painter, pad and pencil in hand, sitting on one of the park benches in Plaza de la Merced, in front of the museum.
Museo Picasso has an extensive permanent collection organized chronologically by periods such as “The unconscious and sculpture,” “The adventure of Cubism,” and “Drawing like a child”. The collection includes works like Fruit Bowl (1919), which exemplifies the artist’s Cubist work, and the colorfully linear Jacqueline in a Straw Hat (1962), an example of his later, more schematic works.
Past temporary exhibitions have included shows on the connection between Picasso and Federico Fellini, and the importance of Andalusian iconography in the artist’s oeuvre. The museum’s building is also an attraction in itself, located in the historic Buenavista Palace, a beautiful 16th-century construction with an archaeological site in its basement.
End your Picasso tour by visiting the 1490 Gothic-Mudéjar-style church where he was baptized, Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol, a stone’s throw away from the museum.
MADRID: YOUTHFUL VIBRANCY
From Málaga we venture north to the Spanish capital. Aside from its vibrant nightlife and trendy food scene, Madrid is also home to some of the best museums in the world, some of which have a significant number of Picassos in their galleries. The Iberostar Las Letras Gran Vía is only a stone’s throw away from all of them, making it a great choice for your stay, located in a beautiful, 100-year-old building.
As a young artist, Picasso went to Madrid to study art at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernardo, which today houses several of the etchings from his Suite Vollard and Women’s Head (1909) in its museum. As a student, Picasso often visited the renowned Museo del Prado, where he would carefully study the work of El Greco, Goya and Velázquez. Years later, in 1936, Picasso was named director of that very museum.
While the Prado does not have any paintings by the Spanish artist, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) has an extensive collection of his work, spanning every period of his career. The most important of these is undoubtedly the Guernica, one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century and perhaps also one of the largest, at 137 × 306 in. Painted in 1937 for the Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exposition in Paris, it now has its definite home in Madrid, as it is unavailable for lending. A careful viewing of the masterpiece ranks highly on the list of things to do in Madrid—an intensely emotional experience you will take back home with you.
When you have finished enjoying the collection, stop by La Central, a bookshop located on site, to enjoy more than 65,000 volumes specializing in art, including the museum’s exhibition catalogs.
Set up by the artist’s wishes and opened while he was still alive, the Picasso Museum is truly special. With over four thousand works contained throughout five palaces that exemplify the Catalan civic gothic architectural style, it is the most thorough collection of his work, including hundreds of sketches of Barcelona.
An eight-minute walk away is the Col·legi Oficial d’Arquitectes de Catalunya i Balears. In 1955, when it opened, Picasso was commissioned to design a frieze for its façade, which is now the only outdoor artwork by the artist.
Afterwards, have lunch nearby at Els Quatre Gats, one of Picasso’s favorite haunts and the location of his very first exhibition, in 1899, at the age of 17. Now celebrating its 120th anniversary, this restaurant and café was a meeting place for Barcelona’s Bohemians. Today it remains a symbol of Catalan modernism, with an updated menu featuring classic Catalan tapas with a twist.
Then, stop at the nearby Iberostar Selection Paseo de Gracia for a siesta and maybe a dip in the pool beforef inishing your tour by walking down Carrer d’Avinyó, only ten minutes away by foot, which inspired one of Picasso’s most famous paintings: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).
If you would prefer a more structured introduction to the painter’s life in the city, sign up for a two-hour Picasso walking tour and discover even more details and anecdotes about the painter’s life in Barcelona.
NEW YORK: A MUSEUM-LOVER’S PARADISE
Our tour of Picasso’s life and work ends outside of the artist’s native Spain, in New York. While Picasso never lived in or even set foot in the city, you can honor his animal-loving legacy (the artist kept several pets during his life, including a dachshund named Lump and often drew animals in his work) by staying at the pet-friendly Iberostar 70 Park Avenue with your furry friend.
The famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), inspired by the streets of Barcelona and painted in Paris, hangs at the Museum of Modern Art, along with a wide range of works spanning different media, such as Head of a Man with a Hat (1912), which mixes ink drawing and collage, and Guitar (1914), a groundbreaking sculpture made of sheet metal and wire.