Was there ever really more time to ruminate on the unsung history of photomurals in post-war art, or was there just not enough attention being paid to the systemic violence people of color face at the hands of police and other instruments of state power?
Fortunately–you know, fortunately is really not the right word here-these two subjects have met at the Guggenheim Museum in a concentrated exhibition curated by Chaedria LaBouvier called “Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story.”
Defacement is the informal title [sic] of a work Jean-Michel Basquiat made on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio after fellow downtown artist Michael Stewart was hog-tied, beaten, left in a coma, and ultimately killed, by NYPD in September 1983.
Haring cut the drawing out and framed it. It was hanging above his bed when he died, and it now belongs to his god-daughter, Nina Clemente. LaBouvier’s prodigious show is the culmination of years of research and careful interviews with Stewart’s family and many artists in his milieu.
And it includes a to-scale photomural of Haring’s tagged up wall, with a roughed out hole where the drawing used to be.
Guernica is a big painting, 3.5m x 7.75m, which spent much of its early life on world tour, and which was parked at MoMA at Picasso’s request, from 1943 until a democratic Spanish government was able to bring it back in 1981. Including a couple of construction-related rehangs, MoMA packed and moved Guernica twenty times during its stay. Still, for touring exhibitions organized by the Modern in the 1940s and 50s, they sent a scaled down, but still large, photograph of Guernica instead.
Exhibition requests blossomed for Nelson Rockefeller’s authorized, full-scale tapestry replica of Guernica, which he commissioned in 1955. Like the photos, the tapestry became a stand-in for the original, expanding and amplifying its reach.
Two other tapestry versions were eventually produced, which ended up in museums in France and Japan. Rockefeller loaned his to the United Nations, where it’s gone on to have its own loaded history.
[Goshkua Macuga borrowed the Rockefeller tapestry for a 2009-10 show at the Whitechapel Gallery which referenced Colin Powell’s 2003 war speech at the UN where he covered the tapestry while lying about Iraq.]
I have not seen any mention of any of these photo replicas still existing. A full-scale prop version of Guernica appeared in a scene in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film Children of Men, and points to the very recent development of printing technology that allows a 3.5m tall image to be reproduced on one panel.
Which, I think I must now do if I can’t find these earlier photo versions. And even if I can.