Exhibition: 1937. On Gernika. War and "civitas" - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2016-09-30 • 2017-01-09

1937. On Gernika. War and “civitas”

Room 33

The Peace Treaty project, devised by SantiagoEraso and curated by Pedro G. Romero, includes exhibitions, contemporary artistic productions and publications that focus on depictions of peace in art history, culture and law. Starting last year and throughout the course of this year, numerous activities associated with this project have been presented in around twenty venues, from Bilbao to Barcelona, Baiona and Salamanca.

In addition to the principal exhibition, entitled 1516-2016. Peace Treaties, divided between the Museo San Telmo and the Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea in San Sebastián (in which the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum has also taken part with the loan of around twenty works from its collection), there are seven more Study Cases on historical episodes, each with an expert curator; a monographic exhibition on José María Sert; and seven contemporary artistic productions with the overall title Afueras. The project has benefitted from the sole sponsorship of Telefónica.

Notable among the Study Cases is this exhibition on Picasso's Guernica, which will be on display until 9 January next year at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It brings together forty-six works of different types, primarily paintings, photographs and prints but also sculptures, an architectural model and coins, loaned by institutions such as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies (Barcelona), the Museu Fundación Juan March (Palma de Mallorca), the Fundación Pablo Ruiz Picasso Museo Casa Natal (Malaga) and the library of the University of California (UCLA), among others. Also on display are a number of documents from the library of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.

The exhibition's curator, the art historian Valentín Roma, has summarised its contents: "Following its canonisation in the MoMA, the preeminent museum of modern art, the Guernica's process of symbolic inflation, the abandonment of its allegory and its metamorphosis into an "agent" of world peace coincided with the evolution of modern war, no longer apocalyptic or biblical but civil: a war between ways of life and between political positions."

The exhibition is structured into three sections that focus on the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937; Picasso and Guernica; and the influence of the painting on other artists at the time. The first reconstructs the context in which the work, commissioned by the government of the Second Republic, was exhibited, the architecture of the Spanish Pavilion, the works that accompanied it, and documentation of the period on Spain's participation in the International Exhibition.

The second section looks at the process of Guernica's creation, from Picasso's preliminary drawings and oils to the photographs that Dora Maar took to document its execution in Picasso's studio in Paris.

The third section includes works by international artists who were influenced by Guernica as a result of the painting's three international tours to various European and American cities in order to raise funds for the Spanish Refugee Relief Committee.


1937. On Gernika. War and civitas

Shortly after it was presented in the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937, Guernica embarked on a journey that would take it to various cities in northern Europe and the United States as part of an anti-Fascist fundraising campaign by the Spanish Refugee Relief Committee. The first tour, organised in 1938 by the gallerist Paul Rosenberg, took Guernica (together with other works by Matisse, Braque and Laurens) to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen. The second, this time on the initiative of the Committee itself and coordinated by the Bilbao poet Juan Larrea, visited the British cities of London, Oxford, Leeds and Manchester. The third started in New York in 1939 then went to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago before returning to the MoMA where the painting was included in the exhibition Picasso. Forty Years of his Art which travelled to eleven American cities. Subsequently, in 1944, Guernica was sent to Mexico, Milan and Stockholm and to the 2nd Sao Paolo Biennial. In 1958 the painting and its associated preparatory drawings were left on long-term deposit with the MoMA in accordance with Picasso's wish that they should remain there until democracy was restored in Spain. The painting was finally able to return on 10 September 1981 (the 25th anniversary of that return was celebrated this autumn) and was installed in the Casón del Buen Retiro in Madrid. Since 1992 Guernica and its preparatory studies have been on display in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

The painting's long odyssey firstly influenced the course of art history, given its importance for the numerous artists who were able to see it at first hand. Secondly, it definitively established Picasso's reputation through its presence at the MoMA, the preeminent modern art museum. Finally, it affected Guernica itself: following its extensive travels the work entered a phase that has continued to the present day in which its status has varied between that of a pacifist icon and a democratised souvenir, in another route than runs from unconditional admiration to the loss of its symbolic significance.

Articulated through these key aspects, the present exhibition analyses the paradoxes that surround the mural's early years and its metamorphosis into a symbol of non-violence through a narrative based on the horror of war.

The Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition of 1937

This section reconstructs the pavilion where Guernica was installed and where it provoked both ferocious criticism and glowing support. On display in this section are paintings by Francisco Mateos González, Santiago Pelegrin, Arturo Souto and Eduardo Vicente Pérez, depicting the everyday existence of the militias during the

Spanish Civil War and which were exhibited at the time. Visitors can also see the architectural model for the pavilion designed by Josep Lluís Sert and Luis Lacasa, explanatory posters, works by Joan Miró and Alexander Calder and an example of the peseta minted by the Second Republic which was popularly known as "the blonde" due to its colour and the image of a woman on the obverse.

Picasso and Guernica

This section, which focuses specifically on Picasso's painting, presents a dialogue between the earlier influences on the artist and a number of earlier works by him in which he worked towards the final work's composition. They range from Peter Paul Rubens's painting The Horrors of War (1637), which Picasso took as a direct influence, to his own etchings Minotauromaquia (1935) and The Dream and Lie of Franco (1937), and four preparatory drawings and an oil on canvas of a horse's head also from 1937. All these works by Picasso are exceptional examples loaned by the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía (apart from the two etchings from the Museu Fundación Juan March in Palma de Mallorca and the Fundación Pablo Ruiz Picasso Museo Casa Natal in Malaga, respectively), which allow for a reconstruction of the artist's working process and the iconographic and compositional ideas and solutions that he considered, rejected or selected during the work's creation. Finally, this section looks at the photographer Dora Maar's famous reportage which documents the different phases of the painting's creation in the studio on rue de Grands-Augustins in Paris where Picasso painted it in just seven weeks between May and June 1937. These photographs, which were published in the magazine Cahiers d'Art, constitute a key historical document for an understanding of the creation of Picasso's work.

The influence of Guernica

The third section focuses on the mural's effect on a series of artists who either saw it at first hand or who created works influenced by it. They include Asger Jorn, Jackson Pollock, Jorge Oteiza (a plaque of 1945 made for the Guernica Park in Bogotá, and the sculpture Stele for the peaceful Town that was Gernika of 1937), Luis Fernández and Oskar Kokoschka, who produced a gouache entitled Help the Basque Children! (1937) to raise funds for children affected by the bombing of Gernika. Particularly significant here is a new reconstruction of the work's influence on the contemporary dance scene in Greenwich Village in New York in the late 1930s, recreated through images by the specialist dance photographer Barbara Morgan. The influence of Guernica on politically committed choreographers such as Anna Sokolow, Sophia Delza, Lily Mehlman and Martha Graham resulted in an interpretation of its symbolism through the movements and gestures of dance. Looking directly to Picasso's painting, the influential American dancer and choreographer Graham created Deep Song (1937) with a set designed by Isamo Noguchi and music by Henry Cowell.


In the image:
Pablo Picasso (Málaga, 1881- Mougins, France, 1973)
Mano con espada rota. Dibujo preparatorio para «Guernica», 1937
Graphite on paper. 23,9 x 45,4 cm
MNCARS, Madrid