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American Guernica: A Call for Guerilla Public Art

Update: American Guernica has been picking up steam. I’ll be posting regular updates on the project under it’s own category.

I’ve written here before about the idea of open-sourcing art projects to involve as many participants as possible. American Guernica is a perfect test case for that notion.

In a nutshell, I’d like to invite any interested groups or individuals to help plaster the USA with billboard size reproductions of Picasso’s Guernica. Ideally, the work would stand without any text or headlines or additional commentary: if the painting is all that’s seen, it forces the viewer to make an interpretation instead of being told what to think. Being told what to think is exactly what got Americans in trouble in the first place, no?

The following paragraph is not what inspired the idea, but I think it explains relatively well what one might hope to accomplish in this project:

A tapestry copy of Picasso’s Guernica is displayed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room. It was placed there as a reminder of the horrors of war. Commissioned and donated by Nelson Rockefeller, it is not quite as monochromatic as the original, using several shades of brown. On February 5, 2003, a large blue curtain was placed to cover this work, so that it would not be visible in the background when Colin Powell and John Negroponte gave press conferences at the United Nations. On the following day, it was claimed that the curtain was placed there at the request of television news crews, who had complained that the wild lines and screaming figures made for a bad backdrop, and that a horse’s hindquarters appeared just above the faces of any speakers. Diplomats, however, told journalists that the Bush Administration leaned on UN officials to cover the tapestry, rather than have it in the background while Powell or other U.S. diplomats argued for war on Iraq.  — quoted from wikipedia

If the painting intimidates warmongers into covering it, then why not make sure that it goes up in as many public spaces as possible?

In terms of how the project is carried out, I don’t really think it matters whether billboards are rented, plastered over in dark of night (see: BLF, the Billboard Liberation Front) or created just for this purpose. Obviously not everyone has the budget to actually rent billboard space, though it seems like this might be an option for funded activist groups. Now that most billboards are made to hold printed tarps rather than pasted up sheets of paper, it would certainly be easier and faster for guerrilla Guernicas to be painted on canvas and installed at whim. For those who do take the guerrilla approach, it might help to read this basic primer on how to appropriate billboards. Also check out the Wooster Collective for ideas and techniques.

I don’t think it matters whether the images are photos, stencils, handpainted, collaged or what. If the project really took off, part of the excitement would be seeing the results of many different people interpreting a well know work in their own way. I will happily publish any photos sent in by participants of the project.

This is what I’m envisioning:

Guernica Billboard

Guernica Billboard

Disclaimer: I did these in photoshop, not the real world. Part of my motivation for open-sourcing the idea is that in the last year, I haven’t managed to act on it myself. I’m hoping that people with stronger motivation or resources will be able to make it happen if I plant the seed here.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll look into what it costs to rent a billboard in my area and set up a contribution fund.