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International Seminar

Guernica.The Survival of a Myth

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

18 and 19 Nov. 2021 | MPM Auditorium

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.


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?
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?
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?  


More information will be forthcoming.


The three sessions of the “Guernica. The Survival of a Myth” seminar will take place on the afternoon of Thursday, 18 November, and on the morning and afternoon of Friday, 19 November. Each session will combine a mix of invited and submitted papers.
To this end, we are issuing this call for papers addressing topics related to the themes described above. Given the small size of this seminar, the choice of participants will prioritize scholars such as university professors and museum curators who have published on Picasso or who work on related fields of modernism, contemporary art, and global art.
The organisers will do their best to hold this seminar “live” in Málaga rather than virtually. The organisers may cover the travel and accommodation expenses for the selected speakers coming from a significant distance. Speakers will also receive an honorarium.
Scholars interested in participating should submit a proposal to the following email address: Proposals should include:
• A brief text (500 words maximum) describing the proposed paper, including title, and specifying the session for which it is intended.
• Brief curriculum vitae (250 words maximum).
• Contact information.
We invite proposals in Spanish and English.
The deadline for submissions (500 words maximum) proposal is 30 July 2021. Responses will be sent by 1 September 2021.


Registrations will be forthcoming.


See also