Stalin By Picasso shown at Socialist Forum

“If they had been here I would have looked down upon both of them – even without heels” – filmstill from Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache by Lene Berg

On December 1 2012 we’ll do a brief presentation of the Sunshine Socialist Cinema and screen the film Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache by Lene Berg during the Socialist Forum 2012 in Stockholm. The screening takes place at 15.45 in the ABF house at Sveavägen 41.

In 1953 Joseph Stalin died. Pablo Picasso was asked to draw a portrait of Stalin for a commemorative issue of the French Communist weekly Les Lettres françaises, which was edited by Louis Aragon, a friend of Picasso. The drawing provoked strong reactions from the French Communist Party, and the party’s Central Committee published a condemnation of both Picasso and Aragon on the front-page of the daily L’Humanité. The major criticism of the portrait was that the style in which it was drawn did not do justice to “the moral, spiritual, and intellectual personality of Stalin”.

Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache consists of a video, a book and three façade-banners. The project deals with the so-called ‘Portrait Scandal’, or `L’affaire du Portrait`, which later has been named the first consequence of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. It centers around two great, short men and a drawing that created strong reactions. On one level, it is about how two icons from the 20th Century, Stalin and Picasso, once were perceived and how much their public personas have changed since then. On another level, it is about art and artistic freedom, or un-freedom, and of ways of reading and using images, particularly images of so-called great men. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this anecdote from the beginning of the Cold War, is how one simple charcoal drawing can initiate so many feelings, discussions and intrigues as this one did – both in 1953, and in 2008.

The reactions towards Picasso’s drawing in 1953 expressed a need to control what was
presented in public, and strong demands for obedience towards common beliefs in something
particular, in this case Joseph Stalin. Seemingly these are thoughts from a distant past. But the project proved to be less nostalgic than expected when the party-secretary of the governing Norwegian Labor-party unexpectedly withdrew the permission to use the façade of the People’s Theatre Building in Oslo for the public part of the project, a permission that had been granted by the board of the building some months before.This attitude was later more or less repeated when I was invited to show the project at Cooper Union in New York in October 2008. After two days of a planned 6 weeks show, the three façadebanners were taken down from the façade without a warning and without discussing it neither with me nor with the curator before hand. In 1953 one of the problems with Picassos drawing was that it was considered bad propaganda for Stalin and thus for the communist cause. In 2008 one of the problems was that the façade-banners were not clear publicity, and that some people found it unacceptable that the project did not express a clear critique of Joseph Stalin.

Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache was first presented on the topfloor of
the People’s Theatre in Oslo March 2008 (without the façade-banners). Later that year it
was part of the show Headlines and Footnotes at Henie Onstad Artcenter in Oslo and the
Taipei-Biennial. It has later been shown among other places at the Bienale Cuvée in Linz
2009 and Contour, Mechelen 2009.”

– Lene Berg, New York, November 2008

The Sunshine Socialist Cinema will be sharing the stage with artist Nina Svensson and writer Margareta Ståhl, who’ll be presenting a graphics portfolio made by Albin Amelin and Ruben Blomqvist in 1933, Humanitet, with images protesting against the rise of fascism. We’ll look at similarities and differences in how a political work of art can be constituted and distributed.

The Socialist Forum takes place between 10-18 on December 1 2012 in the ABF house at Sveavägen 41. The program includes talks, presentations, discussions, debates and recitations by people like Nina Björk, Stina Oscarsson, Kajsa Ekis Ekman, Liv Strömqvist, Stefan Jonsson, Mattias Gardell, Jenny Wrangborg, Guy Standing, Ann Ighe, Anna-Klara Bratt, and a hundred more. The full program for the Socialist Forum 2012 can be found here.

Free entrance, open to all.

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