9.21.2010

A Not So Pretty Picture

{Picasso's Guernica, 1937}

Guernica is not my kind of painting to look at.  Visually, surrealism in a monochromatic palette is not really my thing.  But in the five years I studied Art History it was the piece of art that had the most memorable backstory, so I thought I would share it.  Picasso's Guernica was first displayed at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, an exposition that was notable for several reasons.  It counted amongst its exhibitors the Nazi Germany pavilion, the Soviet Union pavilion (ironically placed across from one another and the only two pavilions to be completely finished on time) and a Spanish pavilion that attracted considerable attention in view of the fact that Spain was, at the time, in the midst of a bitter civil war.  It was while working on a mural for this event that Picasso read this newspaper article about a small town in northern Spain, of no military significance, occupied primarily by women and children, that had been devastated in a carpet bombing experiment conducted by Hitler & Mussolini at the behest of Spanish Nationalist Party leader General Franco.  Scrapping his original plan, Picasso set to work on a massive 3.5m x 7.8m painting invoking what he imagined to be the stark nightmare of the experience and demonstrating his opposition to the broader military conflict at hand.  He expressed that he wanted viewers to respond emotionally to the piece, and for this reason never fully explained the meanings of all the figures.  Following Franco's rise to power in 1939 Picasso sent the painting to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for safekeeping, where it remained until 1981.  In the years since its debut Guernica has become known as a symbol of the tragedies of war and its destructive effect on innocent lives.  Haunting and dark, Picasso's masterpiece definitely isn't pretty.  But then again, it isn't supposed to be.  

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