“Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory…In this war,(i.e., WWII) books are weapons. And it is part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Imagine this scenario: You are a Spanish painter living in Paris to be close to the energy of early Modernism. Braque, you and fellow artists have risen to fame with your individual studios’ collaborative working environment and created the style commonly referred to as Cubism. You are sitting in a Parisian cafe enjoying food, drink, and good conversation. It is early January 1937. When you get back to your studio, you hear a knock on your door. You open the door, and several Spanish delegation members enter your studio and ask you to contribute a painting for the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (Summer 1937). You are thrilled to be asked to represent your home country of Spain and say, “Yes”! to the request. These Spanish emissaries do not provide you with anything specific about the subject matter, but the Pavilion space has a large wall dedicated to you. They leave, and you begin to think and reflect on this opportunity. You realize that this Summer 1937 event will bring people from many countries worldwide—a true world gathering of peoples and cultural backgrounds.
While you spend most of the late Winter and early Spring months wondering what you might paint, the political climate begins to deteriorate. General Francisco Franco let the Nationalist forces in overthrowing the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. Franco and his allies started the military effort to overthrow the Second Spanish Republic nearly a year ago—on July 17, 1936. On April 26, 1937, Franco and the Third Reich of Germany, under Hitler, secretly agreed to pledge mutual support for the Spanish Civil War. Picasso, sitting in a Parisian cafe in late April, 1937 had still not firmly decided what he would exhibit in the Spanish Pavilion for that Summer’s Worlds Fair. But when Picasso opened the daily newspaper on April 27, he began to see the horrific photographs and the story behind the bombing of Guernica.
For the next 7 weeks or so, Picasso sequestered himself in his studio and drew/painted in a manic display of virtuosity! The end result is the iconic painting of man’s inhumanity to man and the dividing line between art as a protest before 1937 and since! The painting was displayed in the Spanish Pavilion still wet and drying during the Summer of 1937! The real irony here is Picasso’s painting, Guernica, was in the gallery space of the Spanish Pavilion which was right next door to the German Pavilion! How curious and what a repartee that turned out to be! Couldn’t script that any better if you had the chance!
Picasso’s Guernica toured a number of countries immediately after the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne before is settled in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC for 42 years! Picasso agreed to a long-term loan of his iconic painting until General Franco died and Spain returned to a form of a Democratic Republic again. On September 10, 1981, the trustees of MoMA abided by Picasso’s loan agreement and the now beloved Guernica was crated and sent to Madrid. This painting is now part of the permanent collection of Spain in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arts Reine Sofia! Two years ago I was privileged to see this Picasso painting—again! The first time I saw it was when I visited MoMA and happened to unexpectedly be confronted by the Guernica! I had an epiphany! I was literally pushed backward about 3 feet just by the sight of this painting! I will never forget that moment! When I saw this image again in Madrid at the Reine Sofia, I felt like this was a work of art which was now an old friend!
On February 5, 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the American case for war against Irag at the United Nations General Assembly. The Rockefeller family had commissioned a full-scale tapestry of the Picasso Guernica and loaned the tapestry to the United Nations for display. The tapestry, by Jacqueline de la Baume Durrbach, was on display at the UN from 1985-2009. Colin Powell, meeting with the world’s media cameras, would be standing directly in front of the Rockefeller tapestry of Guernica with the images of Picasso’s interpretation of horror prominently portrayed directly behind Powell’s head. Officials decided to drape the tapestry so it would not interfere with Colin Powell’s words! The Rockefeller Guernica tapestry was covered by a blue drape. The tapestry returned to the UN in 2005 and remained there until February 23, 2021! The Rockefeller family asked for it back. No reason was offered. The UN abided by the Rockefeller contract to loan the tapestry to the UN but not gift it to the UN.
“I hate it that Americans are taught to fear some books and some ideas as though they were diseases.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” (Voltaire)
What are your thoughts on the censoring of the Guernica Rockefeller tapestry on February 5, 2003 and then the abrupt removal of the Rockefeller tapestry from the UN 18 years later on February 23, 2021?