Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Abu Ghraib paintings by Fernando Botero

Our library here at U.C. Berkeley is hosting a display of Fernando Botero's paintings and drawings of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It is sponsoredby the UCB Center for Latin American Studies. The paintings are very powerful. In a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 22, Louis Freedberg commented on the fact that the paintings and drawings so far have been shown at only one other location within the United States, and no major museum seems interested in displaying them. Here is an excerpt:

The trickier question is why no U.S. museum chose to exhibit them. The only other place they have been shown in the United States was last November at New York's private Marlborough Gallery, which has been showing and selling Botero's work for decades.

Some museums may have had security concerns. Look at what happened to the Copabianco Gallery in San Francisco, which was forced to close in 2004 after it showed a painting depicting torture of an Iraqi detainee, and the gallery was vandalized and its owner assaulted.

Some museums may have rejected the Abu Ghraib series for artistic reasons (even though Botero's less serious works are in the permanent exhibitions of many U.S. museums). SFMOMA says it wasn't offered the exhibit.

Then there's the likelihood that some were scared away by the content. By contrast, several European museums, including the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, had no problems showing the work.

Botero's paintings got the cold shoulder here despite favorable reviews in a range of respected publications. In an article titled "The Iconography of Torture" in this month's edition of Art in America, for example, the reviewer said the Abu Ghraib paintings "bear comparison with much of the political art of the modern era ... Like Guernica, Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings are a cry of pain at the pointless suffering inflicted on the victims of wars." The Washington Post's culture critic called it a "remarkable show, and a disturbing one.."


Blogger Jack Stephens said...

It is sad to see a great artist lowering himself to churning out hideous, mendacious agitprop. But Steve, if only anti-U.S. Berkeley academics want to look at the stuff, what does this have to do with "censorship"?

11:46 AM  
Blogger Stephen Denney said...

I don't think it is only "anti-U.S. Berkeley academics," Jack. I read favorable reviews of the exhibit in various publications. If it is rejected by museums on artistic merit, then you could say it is not censorship. If, on the other hand, it is because museums are afraid of reprisal, as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter suggested, then I think it could be considered self-censorship, like a bookstore not shelving Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses after bookstores such as Cody's here in Berkeley were firebombed.

1:58 PM  

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