“No man and no force can abolish memory…”

“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?

Carpet-Bombing of Guernica resulting in the death of 1/3 of the inhabitants of the City of Guernica! No prior warning and no military bases in Guernica. Purely a demonstration of German bomber advances!

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

20 Comments

20 thoughts on ““No man and no force can abolish memory…””

  1. The censoring of the “Guernica” Rockefeller tapestry on February 5, 2003 was completely unnecessary. First of all, this piece of art was historic and it depicted one of the worst horrors that Picasso laid his eyes on. Rather than being hidden, it should be recognized as a monumental piece of art that touches upon a sensitive subject. Covering it up is the same thing as covering up artworks or stories based on traumatic historical events such as the Holocaust or the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Second of all, the art is completely abstract and has such an experimental style that it doesn’t really need to be censored for innocent eyes. There are historical artworks out there that deal with realistic portrayals of nudity, violence and gore. Those can be understandably censored in the eyes of a younger audience, but “Guernica” is only disturbing once you know the context behind it.
    The “Guernica” tapestry is such a historical piece of art that it belongs to museums or the United Nation building for everyone to see. Taking ownership of such monumental pieces of work shouldn’t be allowed. It should be in the public eye, or in the hands of the artist himself. I honestly don’t completely understand the situation with how the Rockfeller family got a hold of “Guernica.” It said that they commissioned somebody to make a full-scale tapestry of it, so does that mean this is a replica? Because if it is, then it’s completely valid. People can have replicas of historical artworks in their homes as long as it’s not the original.

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  2. The censoring of the Guernica tapestry is an insult to what it originally stood for. Picasso made the piece Guernica in order to bring to attention the senseless death and destruction that is brought about by war. I would imagine that the reason it was used at that specific UN meeting is because the US wanted to wage war on Iraq. It was brought there to bring a subtle reminder that war is not simply statement between political leaders, but also brings into it the lives of the innocent public. In typical political leader fashion, they simply want to block away the mistakes of the past and pretend they never happened. I would guess that is why they chose to cover it up. To not only lie to themselves about the events of the past, but to block the eyes of the other world leaders to the past as well. Due to the fact that the speech would be recorded and shown to the world, the US was trying to hide the mistakes of the past to the public as well. This way, the US would look like the good guy yet again.
    The fact that the Rockefeller family is able to simply say they want it back is strange to me. I can understand if the artist may want their work back, but the Rockefeller family is not the artists of the piece. Why are they even allowed to claim it? Even if there were some type of contract or dumb political rich person reason that they got ahold of the rights for Guernica, it should still be left out for the public to see. The original artist, Picasso, literally put it against a huge wall near the area where Guernica happened. He wanted the world to see the mistakes of war. For this reason, the work should remain in the public eye. As it stands, the Rockefeller family are the ones who are attempting to censor the mistakes of the past.

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  3. The censoring of the Rockefeller tapestry replication of Guernica by Picasso is contradictory, but also makes sense to me in regard to the public face of American politics. It’s in-line with what I’ve grown to expect about the workings of the U.S. government. Something that strikes me as odd about this American governmental censorship act is that this is a replica of the original work of art, and therefore it signals that a reproduction has just as much power to inspire dissent as an original painting that is critical of fascism and war. Having U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deliver a political speech about the U.S.’s intentions to invade Iraq in front of a painting that is critical of the power of government as expressed through military action is in direct opposition to the ideals of America’s Neo-Liberal expression of world policing and contradictory to the intent of the message. The message is confusing (what is it that they are trying to get me to think?). American politics are traditionally officially anti-Fascist, but the blurred line between the unchecked and oppressive power of free-enterprise in Late Capitalism over common people and the methodologies of Fascism are becoming harder to distinguish from each other. It seems as though the pot is calling the kettle black, while refusing to acknowledge the similarities between them.

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  4. The censoring of the Guernica Rockefeller is something that shouldn’t have had to happen even though considering the events it represents in the piece. Although the piece may represent events of the war at the time it was completed, doesn’t mean it needs to be taken down because the piece was amazing to look at. I feel that tapestry showed a uniqueness of abstract because it does not truly show what the real meaning of the artwork is unless you know a little history about it. When staring at it for the first time, the average person will most likely think that the artwork is elegant. The Rockefeller family is somewhat selfish in this situation because now they have taken a historic piece away from the UN and now that the Rockefeller family has it back is pointless since the public won’t be able to see it anymore. Overall, the whole censorship in this situation is interesting and I believe that the Rockefeller should maybe rethink what they just have done because the tapestry is too historic and brings a good lesson to the table for the public.

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  5. To sensor the Guernica tapestry shows their want to be ignorant to the past and learn from the decisions that lead to a third of a population dead! Only agreeing to censor what is practically a warning of devastation just to pay attention solely to one man’s words is selfish. The Rockefeller’s wanted the tapestry commissioned to never forget what has happened in Guernica and honor those that perished. The fact that there was a cover over it prior to a television broadcast makes it worse as the public could no longer see the commissioned tapestry and remember its importance either. It is a shame that it had to be removed, but from the beginning, the Rockefeller’s did state that it was only a loan to the UN and that promise was to be honored. It was a gift to the public and the powers but if it were to be defiled by censorship, then there is no need for it at the UN anymore.

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  6. It just defeats the whole purpose of the sheer rawness and reality to try and censor the Guernica on the tapestry. Especially for more years to come for people to come look at, they are taking away the true events of what has happened and that’s the point of history. To pass on the true events and not sugarcoat what has happened and let us future-comers know how things were back then. Even knowing the consequences of those events is crucial to learn. It just doesn’t make sense to censor the truth or any of the sort in general when it comes to serious issues like these. I am not sure what the reason may be to remove the tapestry, but it seems quite suspicious and selfish to take it away without any reason. Then again, if it was the piece which had the censors on, then it is best to take it away since it is not reflection the true nature of the piece. It’s a bit of a disgrace to do to Picasso only to censor his work. Then again, if the tapestry had the raw nature of the original, then there shouldn’t be a reason to have taken it down. It has already become a part of history and we should still learn about it especially if they’re events not being told in the books.

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  7. I think the censuring of the Guernica Rockefeller tapestry on February 5, 2003 may be interpreted by some, as apropos to the situation unwinding. On the one hand, by covering it up to hold the press conference, it showed to those watching, a sort of shame for the words that will be said because they do not align with the message of the tapestry. I believe in order for them to convey their message of “righteous war” they had to cover it up in search of support.

    On the other hand, the purpose of such a piece in the room, I would imagine, is to remind those that see it on the horrors of war. For Colin Powell and the U.S. to speak of possible war while in front of an un-covered tapestry would have been apropos too because it would be an honest look at what war brings to the innocent which always take the brunt of the actions. By leaving it uncovered, in my opinion, would have been more morally acceptable because now everyone can listen to the words of Colin Powell and the U.S. with the imagery of the real cost and possibility of those actions, in the background.

    The abrupt removal of the tapestry from the U.N. may be considered by some as long overdue or it could be considered as a mere reflection of the times. First of all, since it was loaned, the Rockefellers were not obliged to continue allowing the U.N. to display it. I do believe at one time it served a purpose to remind all those that walked past it and see it to think about the destructions that can happen from war. However, there could be a better representation on what the U.N. is trying to prevent through art by a current artist. Maybe something is better suited to represent the ideals of the U.N. In the spirit of continuous effort, I propose a garden of some sort because consider a garden needs to be tended to maximize its potential likewise peace must also be continuously worked on to maintain.

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  8. Picasso’s Guernica is a piece that speaks volumes, through the display of power resulting in mass destruction and horror. Political climate can often times alter narratives, that best perceive the path to reaching certain agendas. The covering of the piece on February 5, 2003, was to ensure that a clear message was made on the platform. Art is a form of expression that takes on many liberties to also make a statement. It can be interpreted in one context, and compared in another. It is not wrong or right, but is reflective of the place and time. In the case of Guernica, the message has resonated throughout the years, thus as mentioned being “like an old friend”. If the piece had remained uncovered in the speech, I think it would have highlighted the constant struggles and battles to remain at peace. Picasso may have wanted this piece to be a reminder of finding balance or striving for better. It all goes to show that a piece of art, can play a substantial role. The removal of the piece commissioned by the Rockefeller family, may be a sign of the changing times and political climates across the globe. Not knowing the context of the removal, it seemed like a move on their end to either remain neutral or felt it was time to move the piece.

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  9. Any censoring is a reaction to a political agenda. I bet they were afraid that the speech was somehow contrasted or linked with the horrors depicted in the Guernica (I mean, it is THAT powerful), but it is no excuse to hide such an iconic painting. Anyhow, censoring it was totally unnecessary. I wonder what were their real reasons for it, although it is always the same: fear of something. I must say, I really enjoyed this point-of-view reading.

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  10. I personally find that the censoring of Picasso’s “Guernica” was unnecessary, and frankly counteracts the original intention set by Picasso himself. Picasso had created this dramatic, emotional piece during a time in which people had faced a great tragedy, a pain which Picasso knew the world had to have a better understanding of in order to prevent these types of tragedies in the future. Due to this emotional impact, the US most likely knew that the best way to have their case work in their favor was to cover such moving imagery that would most likely lead audiences to reflect on the outcome of war, potentially counteracting and arguing against the points made in the speech. Whichever the reason, “Guernica” is a grand, moving art piece that serves a reminder to society that wars have tragic consequences and that we must acknowledge the emotional cost that comes with it.

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  11. The censoring of the Guernica Rockefeller tapestry on February 5, 2003 was completely unnecessary and it shows America’s care for any other country besides itself. I think that the covering of the tapestry is the same as averting your eyes from the death and destruction that war causes. As far as the removal of the tapestry, I think that it’s unfortunate that it was taken down from the UN since it holds such meaning, and I’m surprised that they wouldn’t even consider selling it to the UN.

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  12. Lizbeth Ramirez | Art 434
    The censoring of the Guernica Rockefeller tapestry and removal of it seemed a little unnecessary and guilty. It’s one thing to make a bad decision or mistake and accept responsibility for it and another to pretend like it didn’t happen. If you have a blind eye to it, then how are you showing that you’ve grown and know better. We don’t want history to repeat itself, yet sometimes we choose to ignore the history where we’re the ones who messed up. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the tapestry itself, because it was an abstract representation of what occurred. I think the censoring of it was done more out of ego and pride, rather than because there was actually something wrong with the piece. I’ve seen art that’s way more graphic and intense but it’s all up to the individual as to how they want to receive it.

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  13. I think that the censoring of the Guernica tapestry was disrespectful, contradictory, and almost ironic in context. It also really tells a lot about the US and our values about war. I think that instead of removing the tapestry, the leaders that decided this should have seen this as an opportunity to reflect upon themselves and the violence they were about to ensue in Iraq.

    Guernica is a symbolic, emotion-filled piece that exemplifies the taxes and inhumaneness of war and violence between nations. To me, it was incredibly disrespectful for it to be taken down, especially given the context that the US was about to ensue the same exact type of war and violence that was being depicted in the piece weeks before attacks on Iraq. In a way it was as if we as a nation chose to ignore and erase history and not learn from the turmoil and trauma of past wars. It’s also completely contradictory to what Picasso intended in the piece and disrespectful to his artistry.

    In a way, however, this act of censorship only helps amplify the message about war in Picasso’s piece.

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  14. I will start by saying that I am from Spain, in fact, I live 10 minutes walk from the Reina Sofia Museum, and like you said, in my case too, when I saw Guernica I also took a few steps back, I think every time I see it, in fact. When I got married (with a non-spanish), by showing Madrid in a few days to my wife, this was one of the few destinations where I took her, to see Guernica, because of her importance.
    This is a very, very difficult subject to deal with even today in Spain, in fact, Spain still is divided, also because the bombings of the Spanish civil war were very cruel on the part of BOTH BANDS, of dozens of them Guernica can be cited by one of the sides, or Paracuellos on the other … that is what happens when there is a war between brothers, there are no winners or losers, only victims, and usually the most disadvantaged.
    There are two aspects that I want to point out,
    The first, Pablo Picasso, when he lived in Paris at that time, was already living practically in exile, together with Dali, Miro in the surrealist group led by the poet André Breton. Although they were from the left-wing (the opposite of Franco), they did not sympathize with the Spanish left, which was very radical (shooting clergymen among other atrocities). He had already lived in Paris for many years since the political climate in Spain was already very rarefied and tense, the Franco uprising was the consequence. And second, after Franco, the system did not go to the Democratic Republic as the text cites, but to the contrary, a Democratic Monarchy, in fact, this transformation called “La transicion” (the transition) has been the transition from military dictatorship (Franco) to democracy, in the most peaceful and exemplary way in the world in the history of the 20th century, led by the King of Spain and the joint work of political forces (even opposition) and society. I suppose a “positive consequence” of being aware of the horror of the past war.

    He did not know the anecdote of Powell that he cites, I suppose it was not politically appropriate at the time, a mistake. It is said that the peoples who forget their history are sentenced to repeat it, I really believe in this. That is why works, museums, memorials, such as Auswitch, Hiroshima, the tapestry of Jacqueline de la Baume Durrbach, or Guernica must exist and be exhibited.

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  15. The censoring of Picasso’s Guernica on Feb. 5, 2003 is pretty ridiculous and ironic considering the message of the piece and the context of the situation. Picasso’s Guernica is a reminder of the horrors and atrocities humans commit onto one another, and the fact that it was covered up just for a “better” camera view of Colin Powell at the UN is extremely tone-deaf at best considering Powell was presenting the American case for war against Iraq. Based on Kurt Vonnegut’s quote, this was most likely a deliberate case of the U.S. censoring anything that doesn’t fit with it’s agenda or tastes, something that American culture has and continues to perpetrate whether it’s in politics, religion, or education. I’m not sure what to think about the Rockefeller family asking for it back on February 23, 2021 due to potential issues, but I do believe that, based on the piece’s message and theme, it should be shown in the public. If anything, the UN is a place where Picasso’s Guernica should stand out and be a constant reminder to people around the world.

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  16. The censoring of the Guernica tapestry when Colin Powell was speaking just seems like business as usual. It is surprising to learn that they covered the tapestry and I wonder how that conversation went behind the camera. “We have to take down the anti-war art that’s behind the guy who wants to start a war.” It’s silly and sick. It’s manipulation of history to write your own version. Are they hoping that no one would ever find out that they did that, censoring Picasso’s work? By covering it you are turning a blind eye to a history that took place only decades before, purposefully ignoring the patterns of human behaviour that harm others. It’s a violent act of censorship. As for the removal of the tapestry from the UN in February, I don’t know the causes of why that happened or the motives behind it. Could be that it was to be resold to a private buyer, or there could be more nefarious undertones in regards to censorship. The Rockefellers, while an important investor in American infrastructure, hold power in this country in ways that we do not see. This isn’t conspiracy talk, money is power. So the removal of this tapestry could be a form of political protest against the ideals of the UN or not. Who knows.

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  17. The censoring of the Guernica tapestry comes as no shock to me. The world’s way of writing history is that of ‘yeah bad things happened but look at all the good!’. By covering the tapestry, they covered up the destruction of Guernica and the history of violence and destruction that plagues our world. Powell preaches war, but ignores the consequences as a result of these wars. It’s an embarrassment that the UN would hang this work, but then cover it while these talks are going on. It’s also interesting that the tapestry has been removed as of this year. If they were planning on removing it anyways, they should have removed it when Powell gave his speech.

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  18. I believe that the censoring of the Guernica Rockefeller tapestry was unnecessary and disrespectful. I think that America has a known history of trying to cover things up when it comes to things such as war and death, even though this country has repeatedly for the past century touted their military power. Covering the piece in a way shows that the people in charge of doing so knew that what they were trying to do regarding the war was going to be bad and frowned upon by the people. Picasso’s piece is symbolic. It shows the gruesomeness and bloodshed that comes with war. Covering the piece up showed that they knew it was wrong but were going to do it anyways. It was essentially sweeping the harshness of war under the rug. Ironically, censoring this has only amplified the message that Picasso was trying to spread through his piece.

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  19. The censoring of the Guernica Rockefeller tapestry shows numerous faults of America trying to cover war and parts of history they do not want to be seen. Censorships of pieces such as Guernica and other artworks that feature historical references are coverups to hide the gruesome realities. Artworks on political or controversial historical periods are often censored to provide a happier version of the actual story. The censorship of these works created so people would not have to confront the harsh reality. Then the abrupt removal of the Rockefeller tapestry from the UN 18 years later on February 23, 2021, was another example of censorship that should not have occurred. The covering up and censorship of artworks just shows how badly our government wants to cover and hide certain parts of history. To hide the full stories. The censorship itself just shows how serious the events of the censorship actually were.

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  20. I don’t understand why exactly the tapestry was censored. It’s a piece of art and for one thing, with Picasso’s style it can take viewers a while to determine what they’re looking at. It also isn’t technically showing anything graphic. Yes it’s showing horror but it’s not like it’s displaying graphically violent , gory imagery. I can understand that American is always thinking about politics and that there was a meeting and it was political and the meeting was about another war but it’s a shame politics just had to get in the way and they decided to censor the tapestry. Politics just ruin a lot of things. The abrupt removal of the tapestry in February is really weird. Perhaps would have been nice for to hear a reason for the removal, but also I can’t really judge the decision. It was on loan so the owner has a right I’d say to get it back if they want it.

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