Friday, August 31, 2007

Abu Ghraib paintings to be donated to Berkeley Pentagon?

The series of paintings done by Colombian artist Fernando Botero based on the Abu Ghraib photographs may become part of the permanent collection of the University of California, Berkeley... or maybe not.

UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau has tentatively agreed to accept the gift, the monetary value of which experts peg at $10 million to $15 million.

“We have a gentleman's agreement,” said Birgeneau, who saw the works when the exhibition opened at Cal's Doe Library in January and was impressed by “their emotional impact and technical brilliance. I've written the artist saying we'll accept them, subject to us being able to work out a reasonable set of conditions.”

Botero, who said he would never sell the jarring Abu Ghraib pictures, turned down an offer from the Kunsthalle Wurth museum near Stuttgart, Germany, to build a wing to house them.
There's a lesson in marketing there somewhere for all artists. And also a lesson on the power of representational visual art to drive home a point - a political point in this case - by using the narrative powers of representational art to underscore an issue.

Fernando Botero in front of one of the Abu Ghraib paintingsThese images, in a sense, were already part of our visual art scene.

After all, it was the photographs upon which they are based upon that exploded into our collective eyes when they were first released.

By basing his works on them, Botero skilfully recognized that in the 21st century painting is still king, and lifting an image from a photograph to create a painting still "elevates" that image to a higher fine arts realm in the minds of many people.

They're no longer just photos in our computer screens and newspapers; they're now fine art.

And it also brought Botero back into the fine arts limelight and contemporary dialogue and away from fat people paintings.

By the way, my good friend Jack Rasmussen over at the Katzen Arts Center scored a major coup a while back, as he will be bringing the first United States exhibition of the complete series, both paintings and drawings to the Katzen in November.

It sounds like Birgeneau has just written to Botero and nothing has been heard back from the wily Colombian.

Which gives me an idea.

I think that the best place for these paintings is not Left Wing Nut U in California, but right here in Washington, DC.

And not as part of the permanent collection of any of our great DC area museums, most of which already have Boteros in their collection, but as part of the permanent collection of the Pentagon.

As many of the people who have taken the free Pentagon tour know, the building has a really impressive art collection on its walls. As one would expect, it is mostly military subjects and historical paintings.

I think that the Abu Ghraib paintings belong on the Pentagon walls - not to "shame" our Army personnel, but to show the world that we're still the only nation not only willing to show pride in our successes, but also strong enough to recognize our mistakes and learn from them.

Abu Ghraib was the result of an Army which hadn't handled foreign prisoners in many decades and a handful of improperly trained, misassigned miscreants in the wrong place at the wrong time, and certainly nowhere near a representation of the quality soldier that makes up our all volunteer Army.

And definitely nowhere near the level of torture that takes place in silence on a daily basis in places like Cuba, Iran, Sudan, China, many, many Arabic nations and ahem, Colombia, but Abu Ghraib was definitely a low point and a harsh learning experience for our men and women in uniform as we learn to fight a new kind of war. As a veteran I am proud of our Armed Forces and how they respond to the spectacular demands made of them.

Put them on the Pentagon walls to shout out that we understand and learn from our military mistakes just as well as we are proud of our military successes.

I call on Renée Klish, Army Art Curator, U.S. Army Center of Military History, or whoever is the curator for the Pentagon's art collection to write a letter to Botero and have Botero donate the Abu Ghraib paintings to the Pentagon.

And I also call for Botero to now turn his formidable painting and marketing skills to create a new series of paintings about the daily torture going on in Castro's miserable prisons in Cuba (a nation that has refused to allow Amnesty International to visit since 1988), and then seeing if the Cuban dictatorship is willing to accept those paintings and hang them where their military and their citizens can see them every day.

Opportunity for Artists

Deadline: September 3, 2007

The new Workhouse Art Center at Lorton, VA is now reviewing portfolios for the studio rental jury process and Workhouse Artist Association membership. Submittal deadline: postmarked by 9/3/07. Download application at or send a request to:

Lorton Arts Foundation
9601 Ox Road
Lorton, VA 22079

Next Friday

Next Friday generally marks the unofficial "opening" of the new art season along the galleries of the Mid Atlantic area, and there are a ton of openings coming in the next two weeks.

Here's an early look at a good one:

The Women’s Caucus for Art of Greater Washington, DC is presenting "Women’s Reflections - Visual Reflections from Washington, DC artists and 'Katrina Diaries' from New Orleans artists" at the Dennis & Phillip Ratner Museum in Bethesda, MD. This is a joint exhibition of paintings, printmaking, collages, photography, and fiber art by women from both the Washington, DC chapter and the New Orleans chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA). In Katrina Diaries these New Orleans artists express their reaction to the devastation and loss caused by the hurricane.

Opening Reception: Sunday, September 9, 1:30 – 3:30pm and the exhibition goes through Sept. 25, 2007.