If modernism had a pope, it was Picasso.

PABLO PICASSO’S spell over 20th-century art can perhaps be summed up in five words spoken by the Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky in 1934. Informed that Picasso had recently started making messier paintings, the very tidy Gorky famously replied, “If Picasso drips, I drip.”

Picasso’s staggering output — more than 20,000 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs — gave him an exposure unprecedented for a living artist. The fact that he spearheaded the century’s most important movement (cubism), invented its defining technique (collage), and painted its most imposing masterpiece (“Guernica”) makes it hard to think of any modern artist — including rivals and elders — who didn’t at some point in his career take cues from Picasso’s Paris studio. If modernism had a pope, it was Picasso.

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