- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009


“Guernica,” Pablo Picasso’s jolting antiwar masterpiece, soon will leave the United Nations for a safer berth in London, but whether it will return depends on one of America’s wealthiest families.

A full-sized tapestry of the legendary painting has been hanging outside the U.N. Security Council for two decades, providing an unavoidable view of war’s misery and pain whenever diplomats enter and leave the council chambers.

Diplomats and bureaucrats are keenly aware of Picasso’s antiwar sentiment. In February 2003, the tapestry, which formed a backdrop for TV interviews of Security Council members, was covered by a blue banner with the U.N. logo on the days the council discussed the looming Iraq invasion.

The drape was removed after it sparked international outrage. No one inside the United Nations or key diplomats ever claimed responsibility for the cover-up, although suspicion settled on the United States.

The exile of “Guernica” to London’s Whitechapel Gallery, due to take place this spring, is described as a precautionary action. The United Nations headquarters will undergo an ambitious demolition and reconstruction soon, meaning that hundreds of pieces of art, artifacts and kitsch will need to find new homes for the next four years.

“I’m glad they’re taking it,” chief architect Michael Adlerstein told The Washington Times. “It’s one piece we won’t have to find space for” in storage or on the walls of the temporary conference building taking shape in the U.N. compound.

The tapestry, commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1955, is on long-term loan from the Rockefeller family. His widow, Margaretta “Happy” Rockefeller, has approved the Whitechapel loan, and some here are concerned that she won’t return it to the United Nations.

The Rockefeller Foundation has declined comment on whether she will give it back.

Guernica” will be on display at Whitechapel for at least a year, starting in April.

Picasso painted the original in 1937 as a protest against German planes bombing the Basque town of Guernica with the tacit permission of Gen. Francisco Franco, who was then leader of Spain.

The work is an abstract scream of anguish depicting the horror of war on civilians, children and animals.

After decades at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the original painting was finally returned to the Reina Sophia Museum in Madrid in 1992 and is now considered too fragile for travel.

U.N. officials are hoping the tapestry will be returned to the United Nations as soon as the renovation is complete. But its fate is in the hands of the Rockefellers, Mr. Adlerstein said.

The Whitechapel gallery had asked to borrow the tapestry for a show about art and propaganda.

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