Earlier this week a conservator at the Reina Sofia in Madrid announced that Picasso’s Guernica had suffered too much damage from previous travels ever to travel again, an announcement that I’m guessing was meant in part to discourage the Basque campaign to have the painting transferred to Bilbao or some other place in the Basque region. Now the director of the museum has chimed in. Manuel Borja-Villel has spoken to the Associated Press (via) and appears to be trying to pre-empt concerns that Guernica is in any kind of danger while still insisting it can never go out the door again.
For one thing, he clarifies that the 129 “changes” to the canvas — creases, stains and so forth — that were detected by the Reina Sofia’s recent x-ray examination are the same number that were found by the Museum of Modern Art in New York when it performed the only previous analysis of Guernica‘s condition in 1957, when the painting was still in MOMA’s temporary keeping.
Keep in mind that the AP story is a bit ambiguous when it says that after its debut at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937 Guernica went “on the road for nearly 20 years.” What it did was tour periodically. After the fair it traveled for a few years on fund raising tours for the Spanish loyalist cause before coming to rest with MOMA. Starting in January 1940 it also made an almost three-year tour around the U.S. Then in a four-year period starting in 1953 it went on several extended journeys, across Europe, to Brazil and around the U.S., when it was seen by millions of people — but not by Picasso, who was away from Paris when it stopped there in the summer of 1955. In fact he never saw the painting again after it was first shipped to New York in 1939. (For a complete account of Guernica’s history I recommend Russell Martin’s excellent little book Picasso’s War.)