The Spine

Abu Ghraib Out Of Style?

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I am almost certain that you would recognize the paintings and drawings of Fernando Botero, the Columbian artist who shows at Marlborough Gallery in New York. He's the one with the fattened bodies, puffed up men and women and equally puffed up children. He has made grossly fat grossly chic, at least for the Latin American set and even those of its members who are quite svelte. There's nothing more fashionable to have a family portrait done by this Botero, which means plumped up by a man with a very unusual view of humanity.

On October 18, a show of his, comprised of 40 oils and 40 works on paper, opens at Marlborough. But it is not his usual subject matter. This time his subjects are not socialites but prisoners, prisoners of Abu Ghraib, also fattened -although I remember the photographs of the torture scandal showing rather emaciated men. It's possible that I don't understand what the message of his bloating really is. An article in The Art Newspaper doesn't explain his art either. But it does report that Botero had been searching for an American museum to exhibit the work but those he has contacted have shown "no interest."

This surprised me. I thought there was something rather voguish about depicting U.S. torture in Iraq, quite smart, in fact. So it would be easy to find a venue for this exhibit. Well, at least not in the States. But Botero has gotten two other museums to hang this work, although it's not clear if it would be part of larger exhibitions or just the torture pictures, anyway, there is a tradition of artists painting enormities. Think only of Delacroix's "Massacre at Scio." That, of course, is a masterpiece. Botero's work is junk.

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