August 28, 2007

Fernando Botero Abu Ghraib paintings go to UC Berkeley

Jesse Hamlin reports in the San Francisco Chronicle: "In April, the artist, who lives mostly in Paris, e-mailed Professor Harley Shaiken, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, who had organized the show, to say he'd decided to give the works to UC Berkeley. He wrote that because of the school's academic stature and 'openness of spirit,' he wanted the pictures to reside there permanently. 'We were stunned. It was well beyond our wildest dreams,' said Shaiken, who relayed the offer to the chancellor, whom he praises for taking the risk of showing these provocative works and supporting the belief that 'a university deals with ideas.'" Read more. See images.

In the San Francisco Chronicle in January, when the show was hung at the Berkeley library, Louis Freedberg wondered why the paintings weren't shown in a museum: "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." Read more.

Roberta Smith reviewed the show when the paintings were hung at the Marlborough Gallery in New York: "These paintings do something that the harrowing photographs taken at Abu Ghraib do not. They restore the prisoners’ dignity and humanity without diminishing their agony or the injustice of their situation. Mr. Botero does this, as painters always have, through manipulations of scale, color and form. He has also made surprisingly astute adjustments to his own daffy style." Read more.