From The Voice News, Winsted, Conn. Feb 28
The Power of Art
By Eleanor Jacobs, NYC and Bantam
Sixty-six years ago in April (1937), Guernica, the ancient capital of the
Basques in northern Spain, experienced another one of history's more
despicable acts of terrorism. The fascists, who were on the march in
Germany, decided to "test" their destructive abilities, aid the fascists in
Spain, and knock out the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. With the
consent of General Francisco Franco, the head of state, the Nazi pilots
"terror-bombed" Guernica, killing thousands of innocent people, and thus
demonstrated to the world "the art" of saturation bombing which they
effectively used throughout World War II.
Despite his general disinterest in politics in the 1920s, Pablo Picasso was
dumbfounded by this horror and reacted to it by executing a mural for the
Pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the Paris International Exposition
titled "Guernica." In the classic book History of Art (first printing 1962),
by the great art historian H.W. Janson, he writes: "It does not represent
the event itself; rather, with a series of powerful images, it evokes the
agony of total war ... the mural was thus a prophetic vision of doom-the
doom that threatens us even more in this age of nuclear warfare ... the
symbolism of the scene of the mother and her dead child ... the dead
fighter's hand clutching a broken sword ... the screaming dying horse ...
the bodiless woman's head and her hand holding the symbolic lamp" (possibly
the Statue of Liberty). This mural, one of the most famous and one of the
greatest antiwar works of art, was on indefinite loan by the artist to the
Museum of Modern Art in New York City for decades; it has recently been
returned to Spain, where it belongs.
Now Picasso's "Guernica" is once again big news. Through the largesse of
Nelson A. Rockefeller, a tapestry of the painting, which he owned, was given
to the United Nations and hung at the entrance of the Security Council
chamber. Given the fact that currently the UN is deeply involved in non-stop
meetings with international diplomats, officials of the U.S. government, UN
inspectors of weapons of mass destruction, etc., with speeches given by
those proposing war and those who oppose one, the powers that be decided
that Picasso's "Guernica" was too provocative an antiwar statement to be
seen as the background to potential press conferences.
It happens that in the past, frequent press conferences have taken place
before this mural. Lest either Hans Blix or Colin Powell, or the Premier of
France, or anyone else stand before the mural with a screaming mother's head
in the background, they decided to cover the tapestry with a "baby blue"
curtain. "Too much of a mixed message, diplomats said," as reported by
Maureen Dowd in her February 5 column in the New York Times.
So they covered it with a baby blue curtain. Would you believe the power of
this work of art? In essence, they obliterated the "Guernica" because it
made too many diplomats uncomfortable. The press secretary of the United
Nations, Fred Eckhard, said: "... this (blue curtain) is a (more)
appropriate background for the cameras."
Although I can easily walk to the United Nations from my place in lower
Manhattan, I haven't yet done so. First of all I know unauthorized persons
are no longer allowed close to the premises. Therefore, it is unlikely they
would allow me to enter the place to check out the tapestry's current state
of exposure. Second, I think they have already had all the publicity they
can handle vis-a-vis the "Guernica."
I sit here and revel in the thought that Pablo Picasso might have a thing or
two to say about these folks covering up one of his greatest works of art.
By 1937 he knew he could do or say anything he wanted to via his art. He
went on working into his nineties, baffling, cajoling, insulting,
entertaining, creating and destroying conventional ways of seeing by showing
us another way. He definitely knew the power of his art. I miss him.
Eleanor Jacobs co-founded the EARTH Shoe Company with her late husband,
Raymond, in 1970. She is a free-lance writer who resides in Litchfield and