Travels: Guernica

The following selection is from the journal I kept during the summer of 2000 while I was studying in Madrid. I apologize if it seems pretentious–New York spoiled me.

Kate and I went with Brian and Kacey to the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia today. I had never heard of it, which in not surprise as so much of Spain I am not prepared for. Kate told me it was the MOMA of Madrid. I don’t know that she really cared about seeing the art so much as spending time with Kacey and Brian. The outside of the building was nothing worth noting. In fact it seemed blase in contrast with the Prado. Perhaps Paris has spoiled me with its museums themselves serving as works of art.

Much of the museum is white walls with standard paintings. What a brat of art the Met has made me. It’s all something I feel I have seen and studies before under better tutelage than Kate’s shaky plaque translations. Everything seemed so expected.

But what I did not expect was to be so moved by an artist whose work, until now, has seemed nothing more than a gift shop lithograph to me.

In the middle of the Reina Sofia is hung Picasso’s Guenica. I cannot pretend I am so clueless that I have not heard of it before now, but no textbook description could have prepared me for it.

It dominates the space.

Once I entered the room in which it resides, I saw nothing else. Surely there must be other works. I don’t remember them. I only remember every inch of my vision dominated by black, white, and gray.

Perhaps I could describe the painting if I were smarter, more articulate. Sadly, I am not. Anything I might say would cheapen it. That people dare to write of it in textbooks undermines it for no words can possibly capture what Picasso’s brush managed. I finally understand why words can never replace art and vice versa. What I can say is that my dreams tonight will probably be dominated by a bull and wailing mother, her lifeless child cradled limply in her arms.

Rather than try to explain what I saw, perhaps I would be better served to describe what I felt. At first, I was terrified by the mere size of it. Like the figures, the horse, the bull, the mother, the child, I found myself twisted. One dimensional and yet raw with life. I was devastated and inspired and moved. And sad. Deeply sad. I found I was holding my breath.

I felt a tear on my cheek and wiped it away in shame as I ran for the patio, claiming I needed a cigarette.  As I smoked, I turned my face to the scorching sun, letting it dissolve my tears.

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