Book Review: “A Different Guernica” by John Richardson | The New York Review of Books

Art is at its best when it sends a powerful message, and this is exactly what Picasso’s famous Guernica painting does. The painting shocks and disturbs us, even when we don’t know the story behind it. It conveys a message of death, destruction, and a world gone mad. What horrible event could have provoked Picasso to paint such a disturbing scene?

The year was 1937. The Spanish Civil War was in full swing and General Franco, leader of the Nationalist forces, had powerful allies: Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. The war proved useful to the Nazis. It provided them with an opportunity to test new technologies and strategies of warfare. It was in pursuit of this goal that the Luftwaffe bombed the Basque town of Guernica. The goal was to break the morale of the people. It was psychological warfare against civilian populations.

Morale bombing was the brain child of the Italian General Giulio Douhet, whose influential The Command of the Air (1921) argued in favor of targeting civilian populations who  were assumed to be weak and would therefore if bombed would press their leaders to end the war, thus saving lives.

The strategy was based on a flawed assumption (civil populations are weak) and never lived up to its promise (an experiment that cost the lives of millions of civilians). But in 1937, Hitler was so enamored by its “successful” implementation in Guernica that he recommended its use on Poland two years later. This strategy was implemented not just by the Nazis in the Spanish Civil War, but also by the Allies during WWII.

While Picasso’s painting  is about a single event in Guernica, it has since taken on a much more significant role as an indictment of all war crimes and atrocities. For this reason, a replica of it is prominently placed  at the UN headquarters outside the Security Council chambers. Here it finds itself frequently the backdrop for press statements. As a result, it had to be covered up during a press conference in 2003. Collen Powell was set to speak about the war in Iraq. The message was inconvenient!

Read Richardson’s review of Gernika, 1937: The Market Day Massacre by Xabier Irujo here: A Different Guernica by John Richardson | The New York Review of Books

“Rome: Behind the Ruins by Jenny Uglow” | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

“After many years in the shadows, Francis Towne’s haunting paintings of Rome are back in the light, beautifully displayed—they may appear a mere sideshow in comparison to the blockbuster exhibitions of great names, but they offer a luminous vision of a civilization lost in time, a tribute to the genius of a quiet man.”

See the other paintings and read the article here: Rome: Behind the Ruins by Jenny Uglow | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

“Revolution from Another Angle by Jamey Gambrell” | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

“The serendipitous confluence of technology, art, and politics in the fields of photography and film is the subject of the Jewish Museum in New York’s current exhibition, “The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film.” In his catalogue essay, the Russian art historian Alexander Lavrentiev, grandson of the artists Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko, gives a nuanced view of the complex situation in which Soviet photography developed: photography was dominated by three groups or tendencies, whose aesthetics mirrored, to some extent, the spectrum of political factions on the post-Soviet cultural stage. None of these groups opposed the Revolution, however; initially, in fact, most artists and the intelligentsia supported the regime.”

“The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film,” is on view at the Jewish Museum in New York through February 7.

Source: Revolution from Another Angle by Jamey Gambrell | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

“The Renaissance of the Sultans by William Dalrymple” | The New York Review of Books

William Dalrymple examines the seventeenth-century Indian ruler, Sultan Ibrahim, and his obsession with art. In many ways his reign ushered in a renaissance,”[b]ringing together Hindu and Muslim traditions in an atmosphere of heterodox learning, and uniting Persians, Africans, and Europeans in a cosmopolitan artistic meritocracy, Ibrahim presided over a freethinking court in which art was a defining passion. For Ibrahim was literally obsessed with the power of art. In his poems he dwells on its ability to bring people together, and on the way that art, and particularly music, acted on the body and was capable of moving an individual to tears, or ecstasy, or a deep melancholic sadness.”

Read Dalrymple’s interesting review of Deborah Hutton and Rebecca Tucker’s The Visual World of Muslim India, and the “Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy” (exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, April 20–July 26, 2015) here:

The Renaissance of the Sultans by William Dalrymple | The New York Review of Books.

"Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, lent by Howard Hodgkin Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II in Procession; painting by the school of ‘Ali Riza, Bijapur, early seventeenth century"

“Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, lent by Howard Hodgkin
Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II in Procession; painting by the school of ‘Ali Riza, Bijapur, early seventeenth century”