A few months back I was perusing The New York Times when I was stopped in my tracks by a picture of Barack Obama in his office at the University of Chicago. Being a former Second City citizen, I immediately felt a sense of kinship of place, but I was even more astonished to see hanging in his office the exact same Picasso print—a black and white devil-like image, a poster for 1955 Exposition de Vallauris—that hangs on the wall of my living room. I always look around people’s homes and offices for signs of who they are and what choices they make, but when I saw that Picasso work, I knew that Barack and I clearly had affinities! Not everyone makes the same choices or likes the same things—but we chose the same image to look at day in and day out. What did that say about us?
I had bought that print, probably not a “real” print, when I was seventeen years old. Pablo Picasso was perhaps my first real love. Growing up in Niagara Falls, Canada, where there is a wax museum literally on every corner (no wonder I ended up in this line of work!), I first met Picasso at the public library. The art section of the Dewey Decimal system was like my private zip code. I remember finding book about Picasso and Gertrude Stein and falling into a deep, deep swoon. I imagined myself living the salon life, with every conversation, morsel of food, or flirtation the catalyst for a painting or poem. My paintings, made late in the night, the only time an artist can work (teen or not), were inflected with Picasso’s lines, colors, and passions. Picasso sustained me through my teenage years. However, as I was indoctrinated into the art world of the mid-1970s during art school, I quickly came to realize that not only was my Picasso-influenced work not cool, but that he didn’t wear very well. I secretly pined in front of Guernica for my lost love during the obligatory visit to MoMA with my fellow students and professors.