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Botero’s Abu Ghraib Paintings Should Hang in the Pentagon Art Collection

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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, according to news sources. UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau has said that the university and the artist "have a gentleman's agreement" pending mutually agreeable conditions, and has said that he was impressed by the work's "emotional impact and technical brilliance."

Experts estimate the gift to be worth between $10 million and $15 million. Botero has said that he would never sell the paintings, and has turned down an offer from a German museum to build a wing to house the collection.

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.

These images, in a sense, were already part of our visual art scene. After all, it was the photographs upon which they are based that exploded into our collective eyes when they were first released.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBy 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.

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.

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.

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About Lenny Campello

  • Muhamamd Kurdi

    thanks for Botero’s work that painted in abu ghriab in the deep of my heart i say it is a very very meaningful painting that express all iraqi prisons especially in baghdad

  • http://www.writing.com/authors/RRLedford RRLedford

    These pictures belong in the WHITE HOUSE on PERMANENT DISPLAY. Save one for each of them in their cells too =>”W” Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, John Yoo, … all the war criminals in the chain of command.
    Now that the Torture Memos have seen the light of day, the pure B.S. of this posting, which parrots the fabricated imaginary story of how a “few bad apples” didn’t get enough proper training, and crossed the line, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH….. can now be flushed. This line of B.S. has been floating around in the toilet bowel for far too long, fully obscuring the real load of crap at the bottom. Well, that real load has now finally been revealed in all its ugly, brutal, criminal glory – that the entire chain of command from “W” Bush straight down the line fully knew, authorized, promoted and understood that they could and would diabolically implement a meticulously orchestrate a scientifically designed program of systematic CRIMINAL TORTURE. The fall guy bad apples are all rotting in jail for their deeds (deserved punishment), but the REAL CRIMINALS face no charges and maintain they are innocent. No doubt the complete erosion of the concept of “Rule of Law” accomplished under the Bush regime, and continuing under Obama’s watch will ensure that these War Criminals are never brought to justice. Certainly there will not be sufficient public outcry to ever bring the full weight of justice down on those most culpable for this most depraved and barbaric behavior.
    Meanwhile the U.S. Empire’s accelerating trajectory toward the dark side continues. Drones are such cleaner tools for brutalizing the innocent civilians of Pakistan (no pictures either). I’s a new regime, it’s the “GOOD WAR”, it’s OBAMA now, but the war crimes continue. He gave us such hope, now he treats us like dope. Perhaps we are.