A Figleaf of the Imagination?


In a few of the comments on American Guernica, It’s been pointed out that the covering of the Guernica tapestry at the UN was done for the benefit of the TV cameras, and not as a suppression or censorship of the work itself. I’m entirely willing to concede that point… The fact that it was covered holds a lot of deep ironic truth and symbolism, but I don’t think it was intentional censorship. In fact, really, it was semantic suicide, something no one would have done so publicly had they been thinking. I’m guessing it was a damn stressful day for everyone, and someone just goofed. All the same, I’m amused by the last line quoted in J. Hoberman’s text below:

You may recall the to-do occasioned two winters past by a certain shift in the mise-en-scène at the United Nations. New blue drapes appeared to conceal the grisaille tapestry hung in the corridor outside the Security Council chamber in which then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had come to make the case for war against Iraq, and where the secretary was scheduled to hold a press conference. Some newspapers reported that Powell’s staff demanded that the offending artwork be concealed. The Internet was aflame; some weeks later The Weekly Standard attempted damage control by explaining that TV crews had only requested that a distractingly busy backdrop be simplified.

The latter was closer to the truth. Powell would have shared the screen with a horse’s rear.

From J. Hoberman’s Pop and Circumstance, a review of Guernica: The Biography of a 20th Century Icon by Gijs van Hensbergen, published in The Nation. I highly recommend reading the entire review for an overview of the history and controversy surrounding Guernica.

The quote below is from the article in The Weekly Standard, by Claudia Winkler debunking the “intentional suppression” of Guernica at the UN:

The usual press stakeout, where ambassadors routinely take reporters’ questions outside the Security Council, simply couldn’t hold the numbers–expected to reach 800 for Powell’s address on February 5. So the Secretariat moved the stakeout down the hallway.

As over 200 cameramen were setting up, they complained that the background at the new location didn’t work for them. Powell would be speaking in front of the tapestry, of which only indecipherable shapes would be visible. Couldn’t a plain background be provided, like the white wall the cameramen were used to outside the Security Council chamber, which is ornamented only by the words Security Council / Conseil de Securite in brass letters?

The temporary solution, provided by the Secretariat, was a U.N.-blue backdrop. Said the British diplomat, “The Secretariat did it, to meet the visual requirements of the TV guys.”

It was only afterwards that comments were heard about the unfortunate symbolism of blocking out “Guernica.” As a result of these, the Secretariat moved the press stakeout to a third location halfway between the first two. Now cameras could take their choice: They could pan across “Guernica” and some flags to the speaker, standing in front of the blue backdrop against the plain white wall, or they could content themselves with the usual head shot.

Read the whole article here. Towards the end it mentions the Guernica billboard installed in LA by Making Art Work, though it does not mention them by name.

For me, the American Guernica Project is not so much about censorship issues, as protesting war. I included a long quote about the UN incident in the first post on American Guernica because I came across an article which reminded me of it while researching the history of the painting and that made me feel more strongly about promoting the idea. I think the beauty of something this simple is that people can interpret it in multiple ways. I’ll have more to say on that as I post some of the other Guernica related protest art I’ve found.