Back in December, when Derrick Cartwright was only two months into his new job as director of Seattle Art Museum, he was already alluding to “something big” he had in store for SAM.

“It’s the biggest exhibition that this museum has ever attempted,” he told me. “It’s both a creative and economic risk that I really have to measure very carefully. I can’t compromise the financial health of this place.”

The hints kept coming, but nothing concrete—until today, when SAM announced that a collection of 150 original Picasso pieces spanning the artist’s entire career (1900-1973) will be on display from October 8, 2010, through January 9, 2011. January 17, 2011. We’ll get to see a bit of everything: La Celestina (1904) from his introspective Blue Period, Crying Woman (1937) depicting lover Dora Maar, even self-portrait The Matador (1970), plus a range of sculptures, photographs and prints. The pieces are on loan from the Musée National Picasso in Paris —which houses Picasso’s personal collection and the largest repository of his work—as the 17th-century mansion undergoes expansions and renovations through 2012. Though the collection will travel around the world, it will likely only make two or three stops in the U.S., and Seattle is the first. Talk about a draw.

“I’ve always felt that one of my roles was to disrupt people’s expectations of the institution,” Cartwright said. “If you visit every two months, you shouldn’t see the exact same things on the wall. You should see something different—you should be surprised by something you didn’t expect to see… Only a confident institution would do that.”

UPDATE: Tickets will go on sale August, 1 2010.

Defying expectations: The SAM’s 2010 lineup features a mixed media exhibit on Kurt Cobain, a collection of Andy Warhol’s lesser known filmed portraits, and now, Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris. This is the first—and likely only—time a Picasso exhibition this size will travel through the Pacific Northwest, so find out when advance tickets are available by signing up for the SAM e-newsletter.

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