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British Museum Presents Picasso to Julie Mehretu : Modern Drawings from the Collection

This survey of modern drawings from the British Museum’s extensive collection, open through 25 April 2011, will explore the significant interchange of ideas between artists mainly working in Europe and America during the past hundred years.

It will showcase some of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with Picasso’s study for his masterpiece Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, the painting that changed the world in 1907, and concluding with Julie Mehretu, the Ethiopian-born artist and one of the stars of the contemporary international art scene. The exhibition will feature 70 works all of which have been added to the British Museum’s collection over the past 35 years and most of which have never been on public display at the Museum before. The British Museum has an unparalleled collection of graphic art from across the world, and actively collects modern and contemporary works today.

Unfettered from academic codes of practice that traditionally valued displays of skill over imagination and individuality, artists of the twentieth century and beyond have availed themselves of an increasing variety of materials and modes of expression. Impromptu sketches and compositional studies such as Picasso’s working out of his ideas for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, are shown alongside works that are complete in themselves. Some drawings are intended to provide a template for the final product, others to capture retrospectively something executed in another medium. As well as Pablo Picasso, the exhibition features works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Georgio de Chirico, Henri Matisse, René Magritte, David Smith and Louise Bourgeois and major contemporary artists, including Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Francesco Clemente, Judy Chicago and William Kentridge.

A particular highlight is Picasso’s double page composition Leaping Bulls dating from 1950, the first entry in the Visitors’ Book for the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Roland Penrose, a founding member of the ICA in 1947 and friend of Picasso, donated the Visitors’ Book to the British Museum in the mid 1970s, by which time it had become an invaluable document of the international art scene in London in the immediate post-war era.

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