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Gallery That Houses Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid to Get Complete Overhaul
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937. Photo: Courtesy of Reina Sofia Museum.
MADRID.- Guernica, Pablo Picasso's 1937 large anti-war painting, has been given a new illumination and will be repositioned at Madrid's Reina Sofia museum of modern art, Spanish press reports said Friday.

Manuel Borja-Villel, director of the Reina Sofia, announced in a press conference the changes that are being undertaken to improve the gallery in which Guernica is installed. To start off, the lighting has been changed, from yellow to white. The painting will be installed in the front wall where it now hangs. This will allow visitors to see it from the front, walls around it will be torn down.

"The painting gains in contrast and profile" with the new arrangement, which will be finished after the summer, Reina Sofia director Manuel Borja-Villel explained.

The museum is also trying to recreate the atmosphere of the 1937 Paris Universal Exposition where the Guernica was first seen, with other art works and an anti-war movie that were shown at the Spanish pavilion, a miniature model of which is included in the display.

The new perspective for the painting is only part of a series of changes planned by Manuel Borja-Villel, who wants to change opening hours and tickets to attract a much wider audience to the building.

The Spanish government commissioned Pablo Picasso to paint a large mural for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exposition (the 1937 World's Fair in Paris). The Guernica bombing inspired Picasso. Within 15 days of the attack, Pablo Picasso began painting this mural. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour brought the Spanish civil war to the world's attention. Guernica epitomizes the tragedies of war and the suffering war inflicts upon individuals. This monumental work has eclipsed the bounds of a single time and place, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace.

Guernica was initially exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition. The Pavilion, which was financed by the Spanish Republican government at the time of civil war, was built to exhibit the Spanish government's struggle for existence contrary to the Exposition's technology theme. The Pavilion's entrance presented an enormous photographic mural of Republican soldiers.

The display of Guernica was accompanied by a poem by Paul Éluard, and the pavilion displayed works by Joan Miró and Alexander Calder, both of whom were sympathetic to the Republican cause.

After the Paris Exhibition, the painting went on tour, first to the Scandinavian capitals, then to London, where it arrived on September 30, 1938, the same day the Munich Agreement was signed by the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. The London exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery included preparatory studies and was organised by Roland Penrose with Clement Atlee addressing a public meeting. It then returned briefly to France; after the victory of Francisco Franco in Spain, the painting was sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. At Picasso's request the safekeeping of the piece was entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. It formed the centerpiece of a Picasso retrospective at MOMA which opened six weeks after the Nazi invasion of Poland.

Between 1939 and 1952, the painting traveled extensively in the United States; between 1953 and 1956 it was shown in Brazil, at the first-ever Picasso retrospective in Milan, Italy, and then in numerous other major European cities, before returning to MOMA for a retrospective celebrating Picasso's seventy-fifth birthday. It then went on to Chicago and Philadelphia. By this time, concern for the state of the painting resulted in a decision to keep it in one place: a room on MOMA's third floor, where it was accompanied by several of Picasso's preliminary studies and some of Dora Maar's photos. The studies and photos were often loaned for other exhibitions, but until 1981, Guernica itself remained at MOMA.
While living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, Picasso suffered harassment from the Gestapo. One officer allegedly asked him, upon seeing a photo of Guernica in his apartment, "Did you do that?" Picasso responded, "No, you did."

During the Vietnam War, the room containing the painting became the site of occasional anti-war vigils. These were usually peaceful and uneventful, but in 1974, Tony Shafrazi—ostensibly protesting Richard Nixon's pardon of William Calley for the latter's actions during the My Lai massacre—defaced the painting with red spray paint, painting the words "KILL LIES ALL"; the paint was removed with relative ease from the varnished surface.

As early as 1968, Franco had expressed an interest in having Guernica return to Spain. However, Picasso refused to allow this until the Spanish people again enjoyed a republic. He later added other conditions, such as the restoration of "public liberties and democratic institutions". Picasso died in 1973. Franco, ten years Picasso's junior, died two years later, in 1975. After Franco's death, Spain was transformed into a democratic constitutional monarchy, ratified by a new constitution in 1978. However, MOMA was reluctant to give up one of their greatest treasures and argued that a constitutional monarchy did not represent the republic that had been stipulated in Picasso's will as a condition for the painting's return. Under great pressure from a number of observers, MOMA finally ceded the painting to Spain in 1981. The Spanish historian Javier Tusell was one of the negotiators.

During the 1970s, it was a symbol for Spaniards of both the end of the Franco regime and of Basque nationalism. The Basque left has repeatedly used imagery from the picture.

In 1992 the painting was moved from the Museo del Prado to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, both in Madrid, along with about two dozen preparatory works. This action was controversial in Spain, since Picasso's will stated that the painting should be displayed at the Prado.
However, the move was part of a transfer of all of the Prado's collections of art after the early 19th century to other nearby buildings in the city for reasons of space; the Reina Sofía, which houses the capital's national collection of 20th century art, was the natural place to move it. A special gallery was built at the Reina Sofía to display Picasso's masterpiece to best advantage.
When first displayed in Spain, the painting was placed at El Casón del Buen Retiro, an annex to the Prado that housed early nineteenth century paintings but had a large enough wall. It was kept behind bullet-proof glass and guarded with machine guns. However, since that time there has never been any attempted vandalism or other security threat to the painting. In its present gallery, the painting has roughly the same protection as any other work at the Reina Sofía.





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