Francisco de Goya
Los Desastres de la Guerra

May 15 – September 13, 2008
at Peter Blum SoHo

ART IN REVIEW: Francisco de Goya

The New York Times
June 6, 2008

Peter Blum
99 Wooster Street, SoHo
Through Aug. 1

Francisco de Goya’s print series “The Disasters of War,” an extended portrait of the cruelty and aggression that accompanied Spain’s War of Independence in the early 1800s, has been used and abused by artists wishing to plumb the depths of human nature. (In a notorious example, the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman purchased a rare edition and drew clowns and puppies over Goya’s images of victims.)

A complete fourth edition, published in 1906 by the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, is now on view in SoHo. It will deliver a shock to anyone who thinks that the “Disasters” have been overexposed, or that black-and-white etchings can’t convey terror and intimidation with as much force as more modern mediums.

The first half of the plates are devoted to scenes of war, including unflinching depictions of rape and dismemberment. Many viewers will recognize the image “Great deeds! With dead men!,” which shows (among other horrors) a headless, armless body hanging from a tree. This depiction of atrocity is among the most visceral in the series, though the scenes that combine dead and living bodies are more disturbing.

Later plates show the grief and famine of the postwar period and introduce vultures and other allegorical figures. With its emphasis on the aftershocks of war, this part of the series may be the most relevant for contemporary artists.

KAREN ROSENBERG