Saturday, December 15, 2007


Some paintings you might have missed

This past Thursday the Spanish-language news journal "Aquí y ahora" surprised me with some relatively old news: There is an exhibit at the American University Museum in Washington, DC, of the "Abu Ghraib" series of 79 paintings by the Colombian painter Fernando Botero. It opened in November and will close December 30. Though the paintings have been shown in Europe, this is the first exhibition in an American museum.

I suppose the paintings were a surprise for me not only because I don't keep up with the art world but also because the paintings, produced in 2005, received little notice in the American media. No surprise there.

The Washington Post turned to Erica Jong for a reaction at the time of the opening, and react she did—

I am looking at another recent work by Botero in which a roly-poly woman is stuffing her face with an apple as if she were a Christmas pig. Before the Abu Ghraib series I would have shrugged off this image. Now I see all Botero's work as a record of the brutality of the haves against the have-nots. I would be surprised if the Abu Ghraib series of images did not completely change our view of Botero as an artist.

Botero alludes to Picasso's Guernica when he states his reasons for painting the series—"Nobody would remember the horrors of Guernica if it weren't for the painting [Simply Appalling translation]." And he notes that he based the paintings not on the famous photographs out of Abu Ghraib but on what he read in the press.

Unfortunately, most of us will not have the opportunity to see these paintings. So cycling from the press to the paintings and from the paintings back to the press, I recommend the description of the exhibition written by Tim Harper for the Toronto Star that concludes—

Most say they find Botero's paintings more disturbing than the actual images, which they all saw in media accounts at the time.

Since there are a number of Simply Appalling readers in the Washington-DC area besides the NSA, I thought I should mention the exhibition before it closes.


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