Free cultural exhibitions are quite common in Spain. Just look around for information in your local paper or for posters at your town hall and you’ll usually find something of interest. The problem is that free often means of poor quality and only requiring a 10 minute look around. On a recent visit to Santander I found one that required a lot more time and showed me so much about a subject I already thought I was quite familiar with. The journey of Picasso’s Guernica.
For those unaware, Picasso was in France during the civil war when the Basque town of Gernika was bombed on Franco’s orders. Widespread destruction and hundreds of civilian deaths resulted from this attack which came one morning without warning. The atrocity inspired the famed artist to create the work of art that can now be viewed in the Reina Sofia gallery in Madrid. How it made its way from the Paris Exhibition of 1937 to its current home is the subject of this exhibition.
After Paris, the painting embarked on something of a world tour. It was moved from city to city rolled up like a giant carpet and wrapped up carefully. A video in the current exhibition shows some of the damage that this has done to the masterpiece over the years.
Picasso decreed that the painting could not go to Spain until Franco had gone and the country was both at peace and free. It was installed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1943. At times it was loaned out but it remained under the curatorship of MoMA until 1981 when it was decided the time was right for a home in the Spanish capital to be found.
The exhibition not only tells the story of Guernica’s journey from Paris to Madrid, but also shows how the image itself has been used around the world in protest against war and oppression. There are some striking images for sure.
The image of Guernica can be found in many places around Spain too. The Osbourne Bull of Santa Pola, Alicante once sported a copy. In Navarra, a protest against a mineral mine in the Zalbeti Forest found a unique way to use the iconic picture. A huge replica can be found at the base of the hill where the Miguel Hernández murals of San Isidro, Orihuela, are located. And, of course, there’s the Museum of Peace in the town of Gernika/Guernica itself where the painting gets its name from.
Has this post inspired you to find this exhibition? Don’t rush to Santander as it closes on 3 October! According to La Caixa, sponsors of the display, it can be seen in Pontevedra, Galicia from 12 November until 13 December. It then moves to Lugo, also in Galicia, from 18 December until 15 January 2020. After that, who knows, but keep an eye on the website to see where the journey continues.