"All the works on paper are almost always not shown because they're light sensitive," D'Alessandro said. "So a work is shown for three months, and then it has to be put back in a Solander box to preserve it for as much as five years. So it's an incredibly, incredibly rare opportunity to be able to be able to say, 'Let's show all our Blue Period works,' and you can stand and you can look at 'The Old Guitarist,' and at the same time you can see the incredibly beautiful "Woman With a Helmet of Hair,' which was made at the same time, and these prints."
The exhibition covers much ground, both in stylistic approach and choice of media, which aside from paintings and sculptures includes collages, various drawing approaches, book illustrations and multiple printing formats.
"The Art Institute owns so many Picassos that they can represent his entire career, and that is really remarkable," Leighten said.
The prints are especially prominent, with the artist experimenting all the while: the linocut "Portrait of a Woman (after Lucas Cranach the Younger)" (1958), with each color printed from a different block, giving way to the four variations of "Still Life With Lunch" (1962), by which point Picasso would print from — and cut into — the same block over and over.
"Picasso is so important as a printmaker," D'Alessandro said. "I would say that for him, printmaking was as important as painting."
As a sort of subplot, one can trace the ever-changing depictions of Picasso's muses amid his artistic evolution and various partners, among them Fernande Olivier, first wife Olga Khokhlova, young Marie-Therese Walter (drawn to be on the receiving end of the Picasso Minotaur's rather ardent affections) and Francoise Gilot.
The exhibition ends on sketches, photos and models of the giant sculpture of a woman's head (also interpreted as a bird, a horse and other figures) unveiled in Daley Plaza in 1967 but seen to be in the works as early as 1962. Leighten considers the sculpture to be a Picasso with an asterisk because it was fabricated from his plans without him actively being involved in its assembly.
"It departs profoundly from the practice of his main body of work," she said.
Nonetheless when you think of "Picasso and Chicago," this is the image that most likely comes to mind.
"We have this monumental sculpture that Picasso made only for our city," D'Alessandro said, "and we're the only city to have something like that."
When: Feb. 20-May 12
Where: Regenstein Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.
Tickets: $17-$23 (discounts for Chicago and Illinois residents); 312-443-3600 or artic.edu