After complaints to the city’s Buildings Department and concern from the Ukrainian community in New York City’s East Village, Cooper Union removed a large banner from its façade showing Pablo Picasso’s 1953 portrait of Josef Stalin (above). The work (below) was part of a solo installation by Lene Berg, a Norwegian artist, who included it as part of her exhibit, “Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Mustache,” featuring projects that reflects on the artistic and cultural works produced during the Cold War–era. “Berg’s exhibition provokes discussion on the relationships between art and politics, in recent history and in the contemporary moment,” states the press release.
According to Ms. Berg, who lives in Berlin, the removal occurred without her knowledge or any warning. Community leaders complained that this year was the 75th anniversary of a famine imposed by Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians. Ironically, when this portrait was drawn, it was frowned upon by the Communists as being an unsympathetic depiction of the Russian dictator, which prompted this response from Picasso:
“Can you imagine if I had done the real Stalin, such as he has become, with his wrinkles, his pockets under the eyes, his warts. A portrait in the style of Cranach! Can you hear them scream? ‘He has disfigured Stalin! He has aged Stalin!'”
On November 14, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a press release with a letter to the Bloomberg administration asking them to explain the removal of the banners from Cooper Union’s façade (click here). And for more information read here and here (photo below by Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times).