Three large-scale artworks inspired by Picasso's painting Guernica hang on three separate walls.

Large-scale works interpret Picasso’s Guernica in different ways

Today’s Meet the Artist post is an introduction four of the artists and artist collectives featured in Guernica Remastered in Remai Modern’s Picasso Gallery.

Guernica Remastered positions Picasso’s art as an inspiration for contemporary artists. By taking Picasso’s 1937 work Guernica — a symbol of antiwar sentiment and political action — as their starting point, the artists in the exhibition produce works that emulate Picasso’s composition while speaking to present-day concerns. These recreations provide a powerful example of Picasso’s lingering impact on contemporary art, and exemplify how Guernica is called upon as a model for activist, political art. 

Goshka Macuga, On the Nature of the Beast, 2009, jacquard. Collection M HKA/ Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp. Photo: Carey Shaw.

Goshka Macuga

Polish-born, London-based Goshka Macuga is an interdisciplinary artist known for elaborate installations informed by deep archival research. One of Macuga’s most well-known exhibitions was her exploration of Guernica’s history as a travelling piece where she focused on the context and meaning the work has accumulated over the years. Goshka Macuga’s On The Nature of the Beast addresses the legacy of Guernica, referring not to Picasso’s original but to a tapestry reproduction of it. Woven by Atelier J. de la Baume-Durrbach in 1955, the tapestry was given as a loan to the United Nations headquarters in New York City by the Rockefeller family in the 1980s. Macuga’s own woven tapestry — based on a photograph from her Whitechapel Gallery exhibition on the history of Guernica — depicts Prince William speaking to a crowd with the UN tapestry behind him as a backdrop, a mere decoration. In her work, the artist criticizes what she perceives as the negative effects of over-exposure.

Additional reading/viewing:

Sorel Etrog, Targets (study after Guernica), 1969, charcoal on paper. Courtesy of the Estate of Sorel Etrog. Photo: Carey Shaw.

Sorel Etrog

Romanian-born Sorel Etrog (1933-2014) was one of Canada’s leading sculptors. He also worked in painting, drawing, film and performance. Like Picasso himself, Etrog set out to reinterpret masterpieces of Western art. The Canadian artist said that “after years of refining and solidifying my vocabulary… I was confident that it was personal enough to be able… to adapt, translate and make variations of some well-known masterpiece.” In his remaking, Etrog borrows Picasso’s colour palette and overall formal arrangement, interpreting Guernica to express his own trauma of experiencing the Second World War.

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Robert Longo, Guernica Redacted (After Picasso’s Guernica, 1937), 2016, archival print. © Robert Longo/Courtesy Cahiers d’Art, Paris.

Robert Longo

Robert Longo is an American artist who was part of the Pictures Generation movement. His recreation of Guernica reinforces the 1937 painting’s status as a political antiwar icon and its enduring legacy. Longo took Picasso’s composition — maintaining its scale and black-and-white colour palette — but altered the image by adding a series of black stripes in varying widths, which cut through the image and obstruct parts of the painting. As the title indicates, the stripes remove elements of the original work, highlighting the problematic nature of representing violence.

Additional reading/viewing:

Art & Language, Picasso’s Guernica (in the Style of Jackson Pollock, Essay II), 1980/2018, Indian ink and laser printed text on Teslin. Loaned courtesy of Lisson Gallery. Photo: Carey Shaw.

Art & Language

Founded in 1968 in the UK by Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin and Harold Hurrell, Art & Language has changed over time and at its height included nearly 50 people. The common thread of the collective remains a desire to combine intellectual concepts with the creation of art, often questioning artistic styles and art world influences. Their work in the exhibition recreates Picasso’s iconic composition through the style of Jackson Pollock’s “drip” paintings. The American abstract expressionist painter avoided representation, focusing instead on his emotional state. In this unusual combination of styles, some of Guernica’s key components — such as the fallen soldier at the painting’s bottom or the lightbulb illuminating the sky at the top — peep through Pollock’s signature lines and drips. The tension between figuration and abstraction is crucial for Art & Language’s piece. The artists encourage viewers to seek echoes of Guernica’s figures, forms and other recognizable shapes in the composition.

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Guernica Remastered is on view at Remai Modern until February 27, 2022.