Francisco de Goya
Los Desastres de la Guerra

May 15 – September 13, 2008
at Peter Blum SoHo

Best in Show: Heads They Lose

The Village Voice

Decapitations. Impalements. Stabbings. Hangings. Point-blank firing squads. Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) was more than 60 years old and ailing when he embarked on a series of 85 small etchings depicting Spain’s war against Napoleon’s invading army. It was this struggle, from 1808 to 1814, that birthed the term “guerilla,” or “little war”- irregular resisters fighting a formal military force. The Disasters of War is a catalogue of atrocity, including a scene where two soldiers restrain a naked prisoner while a third hacks his crotch with a sword. Yet, the title of this etching, What more can on do?, seems to rail not only against the murderous invaders but more generally at the primitive barbarism that overwhelms a civilization during wartime. A famous image (appropriated 14 years ago for a Chapman Brothers sculpture) of torsos, limbs, and heads lashed to a tree and impaled on branches bears the disgusted yet ironic title Great deeds! With dead men! Goya is both horrified and world-weary, but too much a master not to discover powerful compositions amid humanity’s absurd cruelties. In Ravages of War, the pale bodies of women and children cartwheel through a dark space while a tumbling chair mimics their flailing limbs and everything piles up like garbage. Goya’s chiaroscuro views of hell on earth were not seen during his lifetime because they were deemed too horrific for public consumption. Their horror still resonates- do not miss them.

R.C. BAKER