Leave it to the Nation to do a really cracker jack job of looking at political use of art (in a way that nicely dovetails with our current discussion of painting from photographs). Arthur C. Danto draws on references from the 1563 Council of Trent to Susan Sontag in describing why Fernando Botero’s latest paintings convey the anguish of the prisoners of Abu Graib in a way that no photograph can. Describing the power of painting to paint the “unseen,” Danto describes the paintings on view last month at New York’s Marlborough Gallery–by an artist he previously found “pathetic”–as masterpieces of “disturbatory” art, and totally riveting:
…Botero’s Abu Ghraib series, which draws on his knowledge of the graphic, even lurid paintings of Christ’s martyrdom by Latin American Baroque artists, in which Jesus bleeds from the crown of thorns, or from the wounds left by lance points in his ravaged chest. Abu Ghraib, in Botero’s rendering, also evokes Baroque prisons, like those one sees in the paintings titled Roman Charity, where a visiting daughter breast-feeds her chained father in the gloomy light of his cell.
I find it impressive that Botero did not offer these works for sale. He has the collection available as a gift to museums, but does not yet have an offer. To view the work, see Marlborough’s site. The print copy of the Nation includes additional images.