Guernica.The Survival of a Myth

18November 19, 2021

An academic meeting to analyze this icon, from the local to the global

This seminar will focus on three key themes: Guernica’s position in contemporary popular culture, its importance for debates about the ethics of representation, and the tension between the vernacular and the global evident in later artists’ references to the painting.

Pablo Picasso painted Guernica eighty-four years ago in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. Since then, its critical reputation has been inextricably linked to the canvas’s long voyages around the world, and to subsequent historical events that have inspired a stream of new interpretations. These factors have contributed to Guernica’s transcendent status as a work of art: today, in the twenty-first century, it continues to generate new meanings on a global scale, testifying to its power as a popular icon, a cultural symbol and a myth.

Over the years, scholars have examined Guernica from multiple perspectives. Historical studies have inquired into the broader implications of the events depicted on the canvas. Biographical studies have revealed how Picasso’s personal experience shaped the imagery of the painting. Museographic studies have focused on the different ways that the work has been installed in the 41 exhibitions in which it has participated. During the XX century formal studies have analysed Picasso’s use of line and colour. Conservation and restoration have permitted new technical studies of the painting’s physical structure.

Today, in the twenty-first century, the complex imagery, composition and history of Guernica offer a universe of interpretative possibilities inviting further exploration. In particular, it presents an incomparable subject for sociocultural criticism.

In November 1947, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a symposium on Guernica. As the museum’s director Alfred Barr stated, the goal of the symposium was not to debate the artistic quality of the painting but to explore its power as an image, its diverse meanings, and its value as a symbol.

In November 2021, 74 years after the MoMA symposium, we will meet at the Museo Picasso Málaga to discuss Guernica’s significance today. Our goal is to bring together a multidisciplinary group of scholars, cutting across conventional art history, to examine this extraordinary work by Pablo Picasso, one that has been described as the most relevant big format painting of the XX century.

Seminar organized in collaboration with Fundación General de la Universidad de Málaga and directed by Pepe Karmel, Professor of Art History, New York University.


SESSION 1: GUERNICA. FROM POPULAR ICON TO IMAGE FOR CONSUMPTION. Guernica has become an icon, recycled in the guise of banners, murals, graffiti, tattoos, silkscreened t-shirts and newspaper cartoons. Everyday life is inundated with versions of Picasso’s painting.

What do these images mean? How and why has Guernica become a contemporary icon? What mechanisms of identification and appropriation are at work in popular culture? To what extent do these new avatars of Guernica acknowledge the artistic origin and historical context of the work?

SESSION 2: GUERNICA. ETHICS OF REPRESENTATION. Many different meanings have been attributed to Guernica, allowing it to be put to multiple uses. It has often served as a pacifist insignia against political violence and social injustice. Even today, the image of Guernica appears on banners in demonstrations held in far flung corners of the world.

What gives Guernica such symbolic power? What ethical values can be recognised in the canvas today? How do those values change in different contexts? What makes Guernica such a versatile symbol, able to serve diverse purposes?

SESSION 3: GUERNICA. FROM THE LOCAL TO THE GLOBAL. In the second half of the twentieth century – and the first decades of the twenty-first – Guernica has exercised a tremendous impact on artists around the world, including Central and South America, Asia and Africa. Conversely, these artists’ diverse reactions have expanded the horizons of our understanding of Picasso’s canvas.

The goal of this session is to survey the expansion of the “Guernica effect” from the local to the global. What are the relationships among different versions, copies, reinterpretations and appropriations of the painting? In particular, what reactions has it provoked from artists outside the familiar circuit of Europe and North America? Is it possible to define a “global” Guernica different from its familiar image?


November 18, 2021

November 19, 2021


Free admission




MPM AUDITORIUM 10.30am Welcome Pepe Karmel. New York Univeristy and director of the seminar. José Lebrero Stals. Artistic director of the Museo Picasso Málaga. Luisa María del Águila. Academic coordinator of Culture of Fundación General Universidad de Malaga.

SESSION 1: GUERNICA. FROM POPULAR ICON TO IMAGE FOR CONSUMPTION 11am The Afterlives of Guernica W.J.T. Mitchell. University of Chicago. Full conference at this link

11.40am From Mural to Murals: an Inquiry from the Social Media Matei Chihaia. Bergische Universität Wuppertal. Full conference at this link

12pm Debate

12.45pm Break

1pm Cross-dialogue. Survival of the Image of Guernica, the Media and Contemporary Tattoos. Gabriel Cabello Padial. Universidad de Granada. Full conference at this link Alejandra Walzer Moskovic. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Full conference at this link

SESSION 2: GUERNICA. ETHICS OF REPRESENTATION 5pm Why Guernica will not Die Timothy J. Clark. University of California, Berkeley. Full conference at this link

5.40pm Multiple Viewpoint Narrative and Universal Language: the Translatability of Picasso’s Guernica Caroline Levitt. The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

6pm Debate

6.45pm Break

7pm Cross-dialogue. Appropriating a symbol: ethics, truth, values and causes in the representation of Picasso’s Guernica Andrea Giunta. CONICET / Universidad de Buenos Aires. Full conference at this link Genoveva Tusell. Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid.

UNIVERSITY OF MÁLAGA RECTORATE AUDITORIUM SESSION 3: GUERNICA. FROM THE LOCAL TO THE GLOBAL 10.30am Lamentations: Guernica and Contemporary Art Pepe Karmel. New York University and seminar’s Director. Full conference at this link

11.10am Considerations on Picasso’s Guernica William Kentridge. Artist, Johannesbourg.

11.30pm Cross-dialogue. Guernica. Contemporary re-elaborations and artistic survivals. José Manuel Ballester. Artist, Spain, and José Ramón Amondarain. Artist, Spain. Full conference at this link

12.15pm Break

12.10pm Faith Ringgold’s Die and Modernity’s Long Durée Janet Kraynak. Columbia University, Nueva York.

12.30pm Donald Rodney, “Soweto/Guernica” Eddie Chambers. The University of Texas, Austin. Full conference at this link

1.15pm Debate and conclusion The contents and the order of talks shown in the programme may be subject to change.

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